OMAHA, Neb. — It took a harrowing 10-day journey to escape the Taliban, but an Afghan translator who assisted the U.S. military and his family have finally arrived at their new American home in Omaha, Nebraska.
There was a sense of relief when translator Zamier Ray and his six family members landed on Thursday. They say they are weary, worn and have been terrified by the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan. But at least now they are safely reunited with family.
"Once they took over Kabul, I was really scared," Ray said. "I was like, 'I have to go to the U.S.'"
Ray, an American citizen, knew he needed to reunite with his brother and fellow translator Sharafat, who was already living in Omaha. But both brothers knew their entire family's lives were at stake after the Taliban threatened retaliation for the men's work in helping the U.S.
"If I left them there, they would do a lot of bad things to them. Of course, they would kill them, that's it," Zamier Ray said.
"I don't want anyone in life to have to experience that pain," Sharafat Ray said. "I know you guys have not experienced that, and I wish you will not, and you don't because it's a different pain."
Zamier helped his wife, two brothers, two sisters-in-law, and his 14-year-old sister pass two Taliban checkpoints and escape Kabul on a military flight to Qatar.
From there, they flew to Germany and then to Virginia.
Though they had reached American soil, the risk of separation remained. State Department officials initially told Zamier that his frightened 14-year-old sister — having just left Afghanistan for the first time — would need to be sent back into the waiting arms of the Taliban.
"The State Department told me that you cannot take your sister," Zamier said. "I was like, 'No. It is impossible. I will fight for her because I tried my best to bring her here.'"
The State Department eventually granted Zamier's sister passage into the U.S. But their struggles still remained.
The group still had to fly from Virginia to Dallas to catch a connecting flight to Omaha. On Wednesday in Texas, amid a canceled flight, the family had their first proper meal in nine days.
Zamier and Sharafat say those left in Kabul — including their younger brother — are in hiding and burning any form of paperwork that ties them to the U.S. Many are still desperately trying to flee ahead of President Joe Biden's Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing troops.
"It's not something that we beg for. It's our right," Sharafat Ray said. "We should get our families out. It's such a shame to leave them behind like that."
Despite leaving friends, packing all they could into a bag and risking their lives to escape a place called home, Zamier says they are unbelievably lucky and ready to make Nebraska home.
As for their life in Omaha, Zamier says he will try to go back to school, get a part-time job and try to provide for his family.
Zamier's family is the first of several Afghans that will ultimately relocate to Omaha in the coming days and weeks.
Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska was at the airport to greet Zamier and his family. They say they are working quickly to get families settled in Omaha and setting up housing and jobs for the evacuees.
"Any support that can be provided from a monetary basis goes directly to the refugee resettlement program is not only the services but in the items that they need in order to get resettled," said Lutheran Family Services CEO Chris Tonniges. "We are also taking volunteers. This is a group of individuals that is going to need time and energy from the community, and it can be in the form of transportation or other things."
Tonniges added that that the group will soon publish a list of items needed through donations on its website.
He also asked the Omaha community to welcome Afghan families with open arms — especially as many of them will be leaving their homes and moving to a place that is so different from what they know.
To learn more, visit the Lutheran Family Services website.
This story was originally published by Kent Luetzen on Scripps station KMTV in Omaha, Nebraska.