SALEM — It’s been just over a year since Kamran Siddiqi and his wife, Kamila, of Salem, saw their eldest daughter, Alina, 4. The family was separated at Kabul airport as they fled Afghanistan in August 2021.
The couple, who live in a third-floor apartment in the Palmer Cove neighborhood, also have a 2-year-old daughter, Anaya, and an 8-month-old son, Ahyan.
Their eldest daughter now lives in London with her grandmother and she has never met her little brother.
The family separated amid the tumult at the airport gates during a chaotic two-week withdrawal and mass airlift of refugees by US forces as the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Refugees such as Kamran Siddiqi, who had worked for American contractors, uprooted and left everything behind as they fled for their lives.
Siddiqi said his family flew between August 24 and 26. He is unsure of the exact date after spending three to four days directly outside the airport waiting for a chance to enter.
Roadblock to return
The reason he can’t bring Alina to America is because she doesn’t have an Afghan passport. Siddiqi said he will either have to apply for a humanitarian parole visa for her or the family will have to wait until he gets his green card and can file a petition to bring her here.
“In the meantime, Seth Mouton’s office is helping me and they’re trying to get him through the evacuation flights,” Siddiqi said.
Moulton said in a recent interview that he was aware of the family’s case and that his office had been working hard on it for some time.
“It’s not surprising, there are a lot of cases like this,” said Moulton, who had traveled to Afghanistan during the airport evacuation to see firsthand what was going on there. . He said the tragedy of Afghanistan is still unfolding with the continuing tragedy of Afghan allies who have been left behind.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” he said, of the family’s inability to be reunited.
“The technicality of this case is that they need an Afghan passport, but, wake up the State Department, let’s be real here,” Moulton said. “We’re not going to get an Afghan passport from the Taliban for a little girl stuck in London. So cut the bureaucracy and let us bring him to America to his family.
Moulton’s eldest daughter is almost 4, he says, “and I can’t imagine trying to explain to her as her father why she can’t come and be with the rest of the family. It’s just awful.
In search of a better life
Siddiqi, 33, has spent most of his life as a refugee. His family moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan amid turmoil when he was a young child.
He got a bachelor’s degree from a Pakistani university where the school is taught in English.
In 2013, he returned to Afghanistan “in search of a better life”.
He worked at various jobs, including for a little over a year on a contract with the United States Agency for International Development with an American contractor, and then with another American contractor for 18 months. He also worked on a project under a USAID contract, which Siddiqi said was called a subcontractor cooperation agreement, working as a finance specialist for 10 months.
Then he got his dream job in the Afghan government as the Director of Forensic Audit and Special Investigations for the Ministry of Public Health. His appointment was signed by the President of Afghanistan.
He worked in this position for a month and a half before the fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021. Before that, Siddiqi had no intention of coming to the United States. But then he and his family realized the Taliban might come after him as a government official.
Her cousin, a British national, was with them.
“He said to me, ‘Bring your family, let’s go. It’s not safe here,” Siddiqi said.
At the airport, amidst the jostling, they tried to enter through the gate reserved for Europeans, but there was a rush, fighting broke out and the gates were closed.
He and his pregnant wife, granddaughter and he separated from his eldest daughter, mother, brother and younger sister. Another sister from the UK was able to bring these family members into the airport.
He had access to food and water, but his eldest daughter and her mother did not have access to adequate nutrition.
“My mother called me and told me that if we stayed here any longer we could lose Alina,” Siddiqi said. “My sister told me I had a chance to take them to the UK and we don’t know if the US will allow them or not.”
Her cousin, a Danish national living in the UK who was visiting family in Kabul, was also trying to leave. He offered to translate for officials from Denmark.
“My cousin helped them voluntarily and that’s how my cousin asked the Danish official, ‘That’s my cousin outside with his child and he was working with the Americans,'” Siddiqi said.
The Danish official allowed his cousin to take all his documents and his application for a special immigrant visa and show them to the American officials who were handling the evacuation. They told his cousin that if he could get Siddiqi and his family in, “we can help him get out.”
“We were waiting in (the) rush like everyone else, but when the door was opened my cousin just grabbed my hand and grabbed me inside.”
After four or five hours, they were transported to Qatar.
“Life in America is beautiful”
“It was a mixed feeling,” Siddiqi said of his thoughts on the transport plane. “The feeling that my family is breaking up, the feeling of the job I wanted; I always wanted to have a government job with all the protocols and everything I could do for my country… It was like a dream come true and everything suddenly slipped away from me in my hands and I have been hit.
Siddiqi said he had since struggled in the months since when his daughter called him and asked, “When will you come meet me?”
Siddiqi had never applied for a passport for his daughter because he never thought the government would fall so quickly.
“When there is peace, there is no need to leave the country,” he said.
From Qatar, they were flown to a camp in Sicily, then to Philadelphia, then to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico for a month. Massachusetts accepted the family’s paperwork, and they lived in Lynn for a few months before securing an apartment in Salem.
They were resettled in the area through the Boston Refugee and Immigration Assistance Center.
Siddiqi was grateful for help from Marblehead resident Kera Dalton and Gary Moorehead, director of faith-based organization Kataluma, which works with RIAC to help resettle refugees in the area.
Through a connection to Marblehead, he landed a job at a custom compliance firm in Peabody where he works as a business analyst.
Although her family is separated at the moment, Siddiqi said her life is back on track.
“Life in America is good,” said Siddiqi, who added he still had a lot to learn. They used to live in a lawless country, but living in a country where people respect the laws “feels very good”.
Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714 or [email protected]