Mohammed Wali was visibly relieved to finally have his wife and three children with him in the United States after their harrowing escape from Afghanistan as he embraced Congressman Tom Suozzi in a long hug as the two met outside his restaurant Arianna on the Upper West Side on Wednesday.
Wali, who came to the United States in 1992 and is an American citizen, reached out to Suozzi’s office on Aug. 16 to ask for assistance to help evacuate his wife and three children from Kabul, Afghanistan, after the Taliban took over the capital.
His two older children, 8-year-old Omar and 6-year-old Zahra, are American citizens, and Wali has been working on securing U.S. citizenship for his wife Aisha and 1-year-old Yasir.
He told Suozzi’s office that his family had gone to the airport in Kabul twice but couldn’t get in. They were jostled by the crowds, hearing gunshots, dehydrated, and the kids had lost their shoes in the chaos.
Suozzi’s office reached out to an array of people on the ground in Kabul to help the Wali family, who had made repeated attempts to get inside the airport, escape the mayhem that was unfolding in Kabul.
Finally, they reaached Adam Demarco, who founded Allied Airlift, which helps US citizens evacuate Afghanistan. Demarco’s team of former military members coordinated the escape with the US government and the US Army on the ground.
They arranged a specific meet-up spot outside the airport. To recognize the family, including Wali’s brother-in-law, the family had to put a red bandanna on 1-year-old Yaris and hold him up, so Demarco’s team could spot them among the desperate masses outside Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“This was really dramatic, if you think about it,” the congressman who represents parts of Queens and Long Island, said. “You know the idea of all the crowds of people, these young children, a scary environment, beating heat. You don’t know what’s gonna happen. You meet at a certain time with a red bandana, gunfire in the background. Think about how scary this must have been for the little kids.”
Throughout the family’s harrowing two-week ordeal, Suozzi’s office stayed in touch with Demarco and the Wali family, in NYC and Afghanistan, via text, email, and WhatsApp.
Suozzi shared that it was a terrifying experience for all involved until they knew that the Wali family was escorted safely into Karzai Airport on Aug. 21; they wound up missing the deadly terrorist attack on Aug. 26 by five days.
From Kabul, Wali’s wife, children, and brother-in-law flew to Qatar and then Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Wali family finally reunited in the United States late last week, two weeks after first reaching out to Suozzi’s office.
“As soon as I heard from the Wali family and learned that their eight and 6-year-old children were American citizens, I knew we had to do all we could to get them out of Kabul,” Suozzi said. “For 12 days straight and at all hours of the day and night, we were in constant contact with them. We found the amazing Adam Demarco, who had a team on the ground in Kabul, and working together. We did not give up until we got them safely home. Without the work of my wonderful staff, the State Department, US military, and Allied Airlift, the safe evacuation of the Wali family would have not been possible.”
Mohammed Wali shared that his wife was afraid to lose the kids in the masses surrounding the airport.
“This was not a safe place,” Wali said. “People died in front of my family.”
He said it means a lot to him that he is reunited with this wife and kids and has plans to move to Long Island.
“I got another life,” Wali said. “I try to put my kids in the right school so they have a great, bright future.”
When asked if his kids were showing any signs of trauma of their horrifying ordeal, Wali said that his children were “powerful, resilient, and healthy kids.”
Wali expressed his gratitude to the congressman: “Thank you to Congressman Tom Suozzi and his staff for the way they helped me. I will never forget this!”