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Journalist shares his family's escape from Kabul and resettlement in Ann Arbor

Posted at 6:07 PM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 20:01:12-04

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — After the biggest military evacuation in history, the U.S. has begun its efforts to resettle more than 60,000 refugees. 1,300 of those are expected to be resettled in Michigan.

7 Action News had the chance to sit down with one Afghan journalist now adjusting to life in Metro Detroit. His family almost didn’t make it out of Afghanistan in their efforts to escape.

He was a longtime reporter for the New York Times.

In fact, he had lived here in 2019 completing the prestigious one-year Knight-Wallace fellowship at the University of Michigan. When he left here, he didn’t plan to come back but then again, he didn’t know his country would crumble.

“Jawad, this is Alyssa, we are trying to evacuate you and your family,” said Jawad Sukhanyar.

Jawad Sukhanyar remembers the call like it was yesterday.

On the other end? His former employer, the New York Times.

It was mid-August, most of the Provincial Capitals had already fallen to the Taliban and Kabul, was next.

“I was shocked to see what was happening and how fast it was happening,” said Sukhanyar.

As a journalist, with ties to an American organization, Sukhanyar would be a prime target. Racing against a clock, he began looking for a means to escape. First to his aid was the University of Michigan’s Wallace House, which secured the writer a position as a Fellow.

But physically getting out of the country - despite help from an American entity- would prove to be the even greater challenge.

Sukhanyar captured cell phone video from the airport in the immediate hours after Kabul fell. He and his family falling into the path of the Taliban as they desperately tried to flee.

“They were beating us, they started beating my colleagues. They started beating women, children,” said Sukhanyar.

Children, much like his own four kids, the youngest of which is just three years old.

“Were they scared? asked 7 Action News Reporter Ameera David.

“They were scared, they were shocked, they were traumatized - without food and water,” said Sukhanyar.

After three days in harm’s way and several missed meals-- finally the chance to live.

“Our turn comes, we get onboard a C-17 military plane and we are asked to sit on the floor,” explains Sukhanyar.

The family of six had just enough space to sit, amidst a sea of hundreds of other Afghans.

“Did you feel in that moment you would likely never return?” asked David.

“Exactly, yeah, that’s what was coming to my mind again and again,” said Sukhanyar.

For 12-year-old, Modassir, it was a heart-wrenching goodbye to a home and to loved ones he may never see again.

“I miss my uncle, my grandma,” said Modassir.

Yet he knows this is exactly where he is meant to be.

“What makes you feel safe?” David asked Modassir.

“Here there’s no killing,” said Modassir. “There’s no shooting.”

Here is now home. In this quiet Michigan apartment where children can focus on the mundane moments of life and a father can focus on love, instead of fear.

“I just want to live in peace and live in a society that humans are regarded as I don’t think there’s much in that sense that makes us different," said Sukhanyar.

Sukhanyar says despite knowing very little English, his children are adjusting quite well. In fact, they’ve already made it to the big house. If you’re interested in helping Afghan families now resettling, the state has created a new online resource for those who want to donate their time or their money. Helping Afghans in Michigan