Evacuees walk to be processed during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 25. U.S. service members and coalition partners are assisting the Department of State with a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell) | Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell

After a harrowing escape from Afghanistan, a couple has enrolled their three boys in a Charleston-area school and will move this week to an apartment with the help of two nonprofit groups that assist refugees and a Summerville couple who gave them temporary shelter.

The father, who asked to remain anonymous, said this summer the U.S. Embassy in Kabul told them to go to the airport for a U.S. military flight out of the country.

The family has special immigrant visas to the United States obtained in 2020 because the father worked for a U.S. military contractor, a relationship that placed them at risk of Taliban retribution.

“If the Taliban knows I was working with the U.S. government, maybe they will kill us,” the father said Monday at the Summerville home of a couple who has befriended them. The visas were due to expire, increasing their urgency to flee.

When they arrived at the airport, thousands of frightened Afghans had already stormed the gate, blocking their exit from a country that was quickly falling into Taliban hands. For four days they tried to leave.

The father said he was afraid to show their U.S. visas for fear they’d be arrested.

When the U.S. military withdrew in August, the family sold their car and belongings in their four-bedroom house in Kabul, abandoned it and went into hiding. Miraculously, a travel agent got them on a charter flight to Abu Dhabi and from there to New York City.

In New York, refugee agency No One Left Behind helped them fly to Charleston on Oct. 21, where David and Carol McDougall greeted them. The family lived in a local Airbnb until the McDougalls welcomed them to their home on Halloween night.

David and Carol McDougall helped a family Afghan refugees get settled in Charleston | Photo by Herb Frazier

David McDougall said with the U.S. military withdrawal, hopes of the family’s exit had “collapsed completely. We explored every possible way to get them out. They tried to go over land, but they couldn’t cross the border.”

The McDougalls were connected with the family through Lutheran Services Carolinas in June and were emailing them daily with the expectation they’d leave Afghanistan in August. The family arrived in Charleston with just two suitcases.

“It became our mission that we’d get them here,” Carol McDougall said.

The Afghan family wants to withhold their names for fear their six relatives who currently live in their house in Kabul could be put at risk. The family chose the Charleston area because a relative lives here.

No One Left Behind, based in northern Virginia, helps families with special immigrant visas to resettle in the United States. The nonprofit group makes loans for cars, awards grants for rental assistance and helps in finding work. So far, No One Left Behind (info@nooneleft.org) has assisted in the evacuation of several hundred Afghans with special immigrant visas, said Peggi Phelps, the group’s director of operations. “We are working around the clock to assists more,” she added.

Bedrija Jazic, director of refugee and immigrant services for the North Carolina-based Lutheran Services Carolinas, said this family is one of the early arrivals. Lutheran Services expects to assist in the relocation of 100 people currently at military bases around the country. The nonprofit agency is working with local churches, faith-based organizations and community groups to organize volunteers to find affordable housing and other services for Afghan families and individuals.

The family is Muslim, but the mother does not cover her hair with a hijab — she is not required to do so in Afghanistan, the father said. They follow the laws of Islam: They eat halal, foods which adhere to Islamic law, and they pray twice daily. The Tabilan, he said, misuses Islam.

“The Taliban are killing the people. They are destroying the country. But this is not the way of Islam,” he said. “It is our way to bring peace and encourage the people to (follow) the good way.”

The father said he’s not concerned his sons will lose their culture and ability to speak their Afghan language, Dari.

“If we are taking care of them, they will not lose their culture. We talk Dari at home, but as parents we want them to speak English as well. When they learn English, it is good because they are living in the United States,” he insisted. “They have to learn English otherwise it will be impossible for them to do work in this society.”

The mother sits twice weekly with a volunteer English tutor. She is a seamstress who produces traditional Afghan clothing on a hand-cranked sewing machine. She wore one of her colorful garments last week during a Transformation Table dinner hosted at Park & Grove restaurant in Charleston as a fundraiser for Lutheran Services Carolinas.

“We came to the U.S. for a better life, to follow the culture of the United States,” the father said. “I advise my kids whenever you go somewhere you should respect the culture. The future will depend on the kids and what they want. All three (of my sons) say they want to become doctors.”

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.