St. Louis leaders work to bring more than 300 additional Afghan refugees living in Albania to the U.S.

Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 6:38 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - St. Louis leaders are hoping to bring more than 300 Afghan Refugees to the city, as they await processing by the State Department in Albania.

Jason Kander, former Missouri Secretary of State and Army veteran, spoke Monday about the effort.

“We personally made promises to them,” he said. “They risked their lives for us. They gambled on the promise we made to them about believing in a free Afghanistan and in turn, we told them we’d never leave them behind.”

Kander spoke about his time serving alongside Afghan humanitarians, translators and army members during his time in the Middle East. When the Taliban began its takeover amid the U.S. withdrawal last August, he said something had to be done to fulfill the promise to those who aided the U.S. military.

He, along with a network of other friends and veterans, gathered more than 300 refugees and their families in an attempt to evacuate them from Kabul. After the explosion at the Kabul Airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and hundreds of Afghans, they were forced to come up with a new plan.

Kander said they were able to rent a wedding hall in an attempt to masquerade the refugees as partygoers and throw off the Taliban. It worked, until one day, the Taliban discovered the party.

“A patrol of Taliban foot soldiers crashed the wedding,” he said. “Each and every partygoer felt their stomachs in their throats but they bravely continued to the ruse, prompting the Taliban to eat their food, dance to a couple of songs and leave, with no idea they’d partied with the very people they were looking for.”

The group stayed together for several days, awaiting approval from the Albanian government to transport refugees to their country en route to the United States.

Kander said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones wrote a letter to the Albanian government in hopes of helping the refugees escape Afghanistan.

On Monday, the first four members of the “wedding party” arrived. Mohammed Azimi, was a decorated colonel in the Afghan National Army. He arrived in St. Louis Monday afternoon with his wife and two children.

Since last fall, the process to admit Afghan refugees has slowed dramatically, Kander said. As a result, it may take longer than expected to bring the group to St. Louis.

A project through the International Institute of St. Louis is providing millions of dollars in resources to families that are resettling in the city. To date, the institute said more than 700 Afghan refugees have resettled in St. Louis, all of which have apartments, rather than a hotel room.

In the last decade, the city has lost 19,000 residents, a hole city leaders are hoping to partially fill with refugees, who will be able to build a new future and become both good consumers and taxpayers.

Meanwhile, Fatima and Zahra Nazari are adjusting to their new lives in St. Louis. The sisters, along with their mother, escaped the Taliban after spending 10 nights outside the Kabul Airport last August. They now have their own apartment, jobs, car and are taking English classes.

“Everyone here is very kind and friendly and it’s incredible.,” Zahra Nazari said. “It’s a very, very happy and very very good life.”