Separated during evacuation, Afghan Family Awaits Reunion

Khadem Merzay is watching his youngest daughter, 8-month-old Hasti, from his home in Hyattsville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington.

She is in Afghanistan, where she was born after he was evacuated during the Taliban takeover last August.

“She may not recognize me,” said Khadem Merzay.

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Merzay managed to leave Afghanistan with his two other daughters, 16-year-old Zainab and 3-year-old Mahya.

He said he had to flee when the country fell to the Taliban because his sisters worked for the government, and that put his life at risk.

His wife, Fatima Merzay, who was pregnant at the time, stayed behind with the couple’s 14-year-old son, Mohammad.

“She was eight months pregnant,” said Khadem Merzay. “Traveling was difficult for her, and I left my son with her so she wouldn’t be alone.”

Daughters Zainab and Mahya communicate with their mother through the internet — if the connection is good in Afghanistan.

Khadem Merzay says, “Every time, on the phone, she is telling her, ‘Why aren’t you coming to Mahya’s house? Come to my house.’ She tells her, ‘I miss you.’”

Merzay — who worked in construction in Afghanistan— stays home to take care of Mahya while Zainab goes to school.

“They told me, ‘Both of your children are minors. One is going to school, and the other one needs someone to take care of her. You have to stay home until we find someone to take care of her,’” said Khadem Merzay “It has been six or seven months, but no one has been found.”

Merzay’s sister, Aminah Merzay, lives nearby and is struggling, too, working and trying to learn English.

“Only once a week, I might visit his younger daughter because she needs her mother,” said Aminah Merzay. “She is a happy and loving child. Other than that, I can’t help even myself. I, myself, don’t know what to do”

In Afghanistan, Merzay’s wife faces the Taliban’s restrictions on women. They’re not allowed to work, get a secondary education or travel long distances unaccompanied.

“She is at home, like a prisoner,” said Khadem Merzay.

Zainab says it appears her mother’s hope for a reunion is fading.

“Now, she sometimes says that ‘it won’t be possible that we see each other again,’” said Zainab Merzay.

The Merzay family has been split for about a year now, with no sign of reunion on the horizon.

“[My wife] was eight months pregnant. Traveling was difficult for her, and I left my son with her so she wouldn’t be alone.”

Khadem Merzay, an Afghan refugee in Maryland