SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A local attorney with the help of a former U.S. Army soldier helped a family of 15 escape Kabul.
The family consisted of a wife and husband, along with the wife’s sister-in-law. The sister-in-law is a widow whose husband was killed by the Taliban. She has 7 children.
The work to get this family out of Afghanistan wasn’t easy.
“Years ago I was in the army,” Missouri Senate Director of Constituency Services Tim Griffin said. “I attended a language training course for Pashto and one of my instructors is the brother of the patriarch of the family that we helped.
The first step was getting the family out of Afghanistan. They had visas to go to Canada. Griffin asked for help from Tim Hayes, a Springfield personal injury lawyer.
“I would be crying up at 3 in the morning,” Hayes said. “I had not anticipated that I would get that connection in terms of emotionally.”
Overall, to get the family from Kabul to Canada took two-and-a-half months. The first step was flying them out of the Kabul airport.
“When things went down on August 15th and it looked like the country was in collapse and everybody was going to the airport. [The brother] reached out to me and said my brother, his wife, all their kids, and my sister-in-law, who’s a widow they really need to get out of there. Is there anything you can? Then, we got to work,” Griffin said. “What we were trying to do was essentially find a way to get through to Americans on the inside. That way we could get them, you know, escorted into the gate because they had all the proper paperwork to get.”
Siam and Sheila were separated at the Kabul airport.
“[Siam] actually had been torn apart from them at a Taliban checkpoint and threatened with his life because he tried to intervene with the guards because he knew the closer you got to the opening the more violent and crushed,” Hayes said.
Sheila was left alone. Hayes said she was robbed and abused.
“We decided to try to move them to abbey gate and we were getting kind of feedback that she didn’t think she could do it because the children [were] so sick and tired because they hadn’t eaten all day, but we didn’t hear what she actually was going to do,” Hayes said.
Siam and Sheila, the sister-in-law, and all the kids were at the airport when the suicide bombings took place. The Kabul airport was evacuated shortly after. Griffin did not hear from Sheila for ten hours.
“I didn’t know she was alive or dead,” Griffin said.
Once they figured out everyone was alive, it was time for a new plan. Hayes and Griffin smuggled the family into Pakistan.
“You have to have paperwork and you have to have money for bribes and you have to have passed,” Hayes said. “So we knew some of that money is being used to bribe officials and them, there’s no guarantee that will work. You’ve got to be paying the right. People at the right time.”
The family drove in a large van to Torkham Gate in Pakistan. Griffin said it’s one of the busiest corridors there. Once they passed through, the family went into hiding in Peshawar for a week.
“We were running out of resources,” Griffin said. “Our main priority at that time was to get ahold of the Canadians because the Canadians did give them visa paperwork. But the paperwork was really designed to get them into the airport so that they can get onto the emerging emergency flight. So we didn’t know if they were still going to honor that visa. But we kept trying to get ahold of them, kept trying to get ahold of them, and then finally they said if you can make it to Islamabad, then we will put you on a flight.”
From there, the family went to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, where the Office of the International Organization for Migration took them into custody and put them into a hotel. Hayes sent money to the family on several occasions so they could buy groceries while they waited to fly to Canada.
“[I would] run down to the Western Union at Price Cutter,” Hayes said. “The ladies would look at you a little funny when you’re sending $1000 to somebody with a unique sounding name. But after I told them what the story is about, they’d ask me to come back and update them.”
The family has been in Canada for roughly three weeks now. Griffin is hoping to visit them in the next month.
“When they arrived in Canada, that was the greatest feeling in the world for me,” Griffin said. “I can’t even imagine what it was like for them, but I was extremely happy. It felt like a huge weight lifted that’s been on my shoulders for two months. Finally, I could go to sleep.”
Hayes said Siam and Sheila have family in the states. If they visit them, he plans on meeting them there. Both Griffin and Hayes wanted to continue helping more families, so they don’t live in fear.