Michiganders working independently to help get refugees out of Afghanistan

Posted at 10:11 AM, Aug 29, 2021

(WXYZ) — Within the scenes of chaos at Kabul International Airport, there are boots on the ground communicating with people here in Michigan, working to get Afghans with Michigan connections out of the country.

“All of our friends are in hiding," said Detroit based attorney Mario Talerico. "They’re extremely frantic and scared about what’s happening.”

Talerico is a partner at Honigman law firm in downtown Detroit. His aunt, a former Air Force medic, served in Afghanistan and eventually co-founded the American Medical Center, a private hospital in Kabul serving Afghans for nearly a decade. That was until the clinic was taken over by the Taliban this month.
The Afghan employees of the hospital, which also helped Americans, are desperate to get out.

“Their messages are just agonizing to read and to hear," Talerico said. "They’re very scared, it’s a very dangerous situation for all of them.”

Mario is now part of a team coordinating with boots on the ground, which so far has helped about 100 refugees board a plane to safety.

“It's a group of private citizens," Talerico said of his team. "We are literally a private partnership primarily of veterans, former DOD employees, former Afghan refugees, people who just want to save these people's lives.”

The chaotic evacuation has led many Americans to form their own rescue teams, including Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin of Michigan’s 8th District. On Saturday she tweeted that her team rescued 114 Afghans, more than 70 of which are affiliated with Michigan State University. They’re now safe in Albania.

"People like Representative Slotkin are absolutely to be applauded for using whatever means possible to protect people who are in genuine need... but the bigger picture is very problematic, this is not how one wants these evacuations to go,” said John Ciorciari, Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

"Many people, including myself, think that Afghans and U.S. nationals in the country would be much better served by a withdrawal that was phased with more robust contingency planning and with some conditions attached,” Ciorciari said. "It was very foreseeable that people would need to be evacuated in concert with the withdrawal.”

Meanwhile, Mario and his team are still working to get more people out, but the clock is ticking with a looming deadline and the threat of more attacks.

“The next 24 to 36 hours will be as dangerous as any point in Afghanistan’s recent history,” Ciociari said. "There is a real danger that the last US forces left in the country will be very vulnerable.”

Mario’s team has a GoFundMe right now helping to pay for these evacuations and settlement costs for these refugees. You can find it at this link