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Nearly 50 Connecticut residents are still stuck in Afghanistan

Hartford Courant logo Hartford Courant 6 days ago Christopher Keating, Hartford Courant

Top officials called Monday for the State Department to help free 45 Connecticut residents who have been stuck in Kabul as they seek to flee Afghanistan.

U. S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he will continue pushing top State Department officials to seek the release of families who have been trapped for weeks in Kabul, often staying behind to protect their parents and other relatives.

The group includes American citizens and green-card holders who traveled to Afghanistan for family weddings and funerals and were unaware that the country would fall so quickly to the Taliban.

“It is absolutely harrowing and horrific, and increasingly urgent and desperate because these folks have been in hiding,” Blumenthal said in an interview after a press conference Monday. “The whole country is running out of food, but especially the folks who are in hiding.”

The delays in their departure are due chiefly to “the state of confusion in the Taliban” as many Afghans have been blocked from leaving the country as the Taliban fighters control the airports, he said. The 45 Connecticut residents could represent an even higher number when extended families are included, he said.

Chris George, executive director of a New Haven-based refugee agency, said many of those still in Afghanistan are citizens or legal permanent residents of the United States who live in New Haven and West Haven.

“They tried to get out through the airport, and they were beaten and bruised and terrified in the process,” George said. “They have been hunkering down in safe houses in Kabul, in hiding, running out of food, and — I have to be honest — running out of hope. They feel like they are bargaining chips in some high-stakes game of international diplomacy. Some of them are even feeling like hostages. Our State Department has not been doing enough to bring these U.S. citizens and green-card holders home.”

George added that the Connecticut residents are facing a difficult plight with their families. The 45 residents include clients of his nonprofit agency, Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services, and he has texted back and forth with some of the clients.

“You might hear the State Department say, ‘Well, we have offered to bring home some Americans and they decided to stay in Afghanistan,’ " George said. “Do you want to know the story behind that decision? It is an agonizing decision that Afghans need to make. Do I take a seat on a plane and come to the United States for my safety and freedom or do I stay and protect my brothers and my sisters and my parents?”

Citing security concerns, George declined to reveal the names of any of the Connecticut residents currently in Afghanistan.

Blumenthal said he hopes to get more answers as Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies in front of Congressional committees on Monday and Tuesday. Blumenthal has been working separately for the past two weeks to clear two charter flights trying to leave northern Afghanistan with American citizens and their Afghan allies on board.

Delicate negotiations have been underway as Blumenthal has been trying to help passengers who have been waiting at the international airport in Mazar-e Sharif, the country’s fourth-largest city. Others hoping to leave are in hiding and would head to the airport at the last minute if the chartered flights are finally cleared to leave, Blumenthal said.

In his testimony Monday, Blinken said that the State Department is in “constant contact” with Americans who want to leave.

“Some declined to be on the first flights on Thursday and Friday [last week] for reasons including needing more time to make arrangements, wanting to remain with extended family for now or medical issues that precluded traveling last week,” Blinken said.

As of last week, Blinken said there were “about 100 American citizens in Afghanistan who had told us that they wish to leave the country” — adding that the numbers are fluid because “Americans are not required to register when they go to a foreign country.”

Blinken added, “We offered seats on the planes that got out last week to about 60 [Americans]. Thirty came forward and used those seats. ... These are incredibly wrenching decisions because, for the most part, this is a community of people who have been living, residing, in Afghanistan all their lives. Afghanistan is their home. They have extended families, and it’s very, very hard for them, understandably, to make that decision.’'

In Connecticut, a group of refugee agencies said they are preparing for Afghans who are expected to arrive in the coming days and weeks. Many refugees have been at American military bases as they await the proper paperwork and clearances to head to their new homes.

The agency officials gathered outside the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church, overlooking the New Haven Green, that is known as a sanctuary congregation that has helped refugees in the past.

“We do this work out of a very deep faith commitment,” said Rev. Vikki Flippin, the church’s pastor. “For me, it comes down to our Biblical tradition, which is you shall love the stranger for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt. This Biblical policy reminds us that all of our stories are connected. ... My father fled a war — the Chinese civil war — as a young single man who left his whole family behind for fear of his life, and he had to start a new life in a new land. We all have these stories.”

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker that the Elm City is prepared to continue its tradition of helping refugees.

“We are ready,” Elicker said. “We welcome you with our arms open. ... New Haven is your home, and we welcome you here.”

Christopher Keating can be reached at


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