‘The Taliban tried to kill me’: Former Afghan journalist finds refuge in Rochester

Rochester

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — On August 30 this year, the United States ended its nearly 20-year long occupation in Afghanistan after the Taliban had taken back control. The U.S. left behind millions of Afghans desperate to flee, but also evacuated thousands. Esmatullah Ahmadzi was one of those thousands.

Ahmadzi was a prominent TV news anchor and political show host in Kabul, Afghanistan. He worked for stations such as BBC and Shamshad TV. As a journalist, he says he was threatened, attacked, and assaulted for speaking against the Taliban. The station he worked at was bombed twice.

“When the situation in Afghanistan had become so bad and it was so dangerous for Afghan journalists to work in Afghanistan and Afghanistan society, the Taliban always tried to kill the journalists,” Ahmadzi said.

Ahmadzi worked in media for over 14 years in Afghanistan. When the Taliban officially regained control, Ahmadzi said he had to get his family out of what could have been a very dangerous situation considering he was a well-known and prominent figure in Kabul.

“The Taliban attacked me three times when I was a political presenter in Afghanistan. They tried every day. Our guests that we would have on the show would say things about the Taliban, they would call them terrorists. And I’m a journalist, I must ask them these questions. But the Taliban doesn’t want this on TV.”

Ahmadzi worked with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to find a way out. He applied for an SIV and K-2 visa. He was able to secure a spot for him and his family on a New Mexico Army Base.

“It was the 30th of August when I received an email from the U.S. embassy saying, ‘you are ready for departure and you should come to the airport at 4:00 pm,’” Ahmadzi said.

Ahmadzi said while getting his wife and kids out was crucial, leaving behind the rest of his family was heartbreaking. 

“I am so happy that I save my family, my life, my children’s life, my wife’s life. But I’m so worried sometimes about my brothers that they are living in Afghanistan right now. I have my three brothers already there in Afghanistan, and I’m sorry about them. I hope Allah saves them,” Ahmadzi said.

Ahmadzi and his family lived on the army base camp in conditions he said were unlivable. 

“Thousands of people living in one camp. For example, in one tent 21 family are living there. When I was in that situation, I was thinking about how I have two small kids, not sure what should I do,” Ahmadzi said, “That camp has a lot of problems. For example, when we want to get some formula or milk for kids. We must be waiting in line for up to 3 hours. We’re standing in the line. And after that when our turn was near to get formula, they say, ‘We’re closed now, you can come tomorrow.’ There are big problems and sometimes it would make me so angry.”

After two months living on the army camp, Ahmadzi and his family were relocated to Rochester on November 6th.

“When we came in Rochester, we are so happy. And we think that right now everything is finished, and we start a new life with new situations with new people,” Ahmadzi said.

Ahmadzi credits local organizations like Keeping Our Promise and the Catholic Family Center for helping them start over.

“I want to thank our volunteers, our organizations for supporting us. I am so thankful for them,” Ahmadzi said.

Ahmadzi has only been in Rochester for about a month but said he has big goals ahead of him for his new life.

“My big goal is that after I improve my English…I will try to get a master’s degree and after that I hope that I will work in media in United States,” Ahmadzi said.

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