Masooda Qazi held her 8-year-old son’s hand tightly as she frantically tried to convey to a group of Dutch soldiers that she was an employee of the U.S. Embassy and was promised transport out of Kabul as it fell to the Taliban last year.
The crowd around Qazi was full of people similarly desperate to escape, and it was growing agitated. People pushed forward outside a security gate near the airport, erasing any space to move. Her son Habib began to panic.
“I can’t breathe anymore,” he said to his father, Hamid ul Rahman Qazi, who had been holding the couple’s younger son — Hasib, 4 — above the crowd on his shoulders for hours.
“We need to go back,” Hamid told his wife.
“No. Stay,” she said. “We will get success.”
More than a year later, the young family has resettled in the U.S. after escaping Afghanistan on a Dutch military plane, then waiting in a Dutch refugee camp for 10 months before finally receiving special U.S. immigrant visas.
They arrived in San Diego in June, Masooda had a baby girl in July, and they moved into their own apartment in August with the help of a refugee assistance program.
After so much turmoil and trauma, the young couple — who were successful lawyers in Afghanistan — said they finally feel safe.
But their quest for success isn’t over.
With help from others in the legal field in California — including judges, lawyers, law clerks and law professors — they hope to find their way back into their profession, which not only brought them together in Kabul but also provided them work they loved and a happy life before it all collapsed.
In that way, they are not alone.
More than 85,000 Afghan nationals have journeyed to the U.S. since the fall of Kabul, many through similar airport evacuations that same harrowing week in August 2021 — an effort the Biden administration dubbed Operation Allies Welcome. Many fled not only their country, homes, friends and loved ones, but also their established careers.
Those who have arrived on special immigrant visas such as the Qazis were largely admitted on the basis that they or one of their immediate family members “took significant risks to support [U.S.] military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan,” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Many had held coveted positions in government agencies and international nonprofits. And some, like the Qazis, were deeply involved in building the former Afghan government’s legal and judicial systems. They fought to ensure the rule of law in court, worked as or helped train prosecutors and judges, and drafted legislation to root out corruption and better protect the rights of women.
Now in the U.S., those same professionals desperately need and want jobs, with some resettlement programs providing housing for only a few months. But the hurdles to reentering their old fields are substantial. Beyond the challenges of working in a new language, those in professions that require advanced degrees or other qualifications — such as lawyers — face even greater barriers.
Masooda and Hamid said they understand all that, but they are not deterred. After all, they had fought their way to the top of their field once before in Kabul, they told The Times in a recent interview, where barriers — especially for a woman — were also imposing.
“Always Masooda is saying, ‘We can do it again,’” Hamid said. “And I’m sure we can.”