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About 1,000 Afghans will resettle in Mass. A family now in Worcester is among the first

Just two days after moving into a Worcester triple-decker, 40 days after they fled Afghanistan, the Atayi family has already found community.

A cousin and her family, along with a few other Afghan immigrants who came in recent years, are here to welcome the new arrivals. They gather around a coffee table with plates of cookies and pistachios.

Khalid Atayi offers guests green tea. His 9-year-old daughter, Khadija, jumps up to fill everyone’s cups.

Among the first of an expected 1,000 Afghan evacuees to resettle in Massachusetts, Atayi is finally able to feel some peace.

“My feeling is now is good. I’m happy. My cousin is right here, my friends is right here, the Afghan people is right here,” Atayi says. “I see [this] home. … My children is happy. … Everything is good now.”

That’s quite a change from less than two months ago. Atayi worked in food services at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. As the Taliban closed in, he says, superiors at the embassy told him to go home with his wife and children — and wait.

A few days later, after Kabul had fallen, 26-year-old Atayi says he got an email from the embassy telling him to go to the airport with his family. They left their house and their belongings behind, waited in the chaos at the Kabul airport for one night, then were evacuated to Qatar. Their journey took them to Washington, Texas and finally Boston.

Shaista Atayi is Khalid’s wife. She says she’s doing “good now.” But in Afghanistan, she worried about the safety of her husband.

“I was scared because my husband was working with the United States. I always — I was scared for my husband to when they’re going to arrest him, when they’re going to catch him,” Shaista says through a translator, her cousin’s husband, Farhad Frogh.

The Atayis came here with the help of the Boston- and Worcester-based Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center. It’s a part of a network of resettlement agencies around the country.

Meg Gallo, the organization’s director of resource development and community engagement, says moving into an apartment is just the first step of many for the Atayis and other Afghan evacuees.

“The next steps will start with getting their required health assessments scheduled, getting them signed up for MassHealth,” Gallo said. “They’re qualified to enroll for Social Security, so we’re gonna help them get their Social Security card. We’re going to then work to help get the kids enrolled in school. The parents will be enrolled in English classes. We’ll be working with them to get jobs.”

The Atayis’ status in the U.S. is known as humanitarian parole. It’s a temporary protection used in emergency situations for people who don’t have immigrant visas.

The family will get some financial assistance from the government for a short time. The goal is for them to find jobs and pay their own rent and expenses within a couple months of their arrival, according to Gallo.

Nonprofits and volunteer groups helped furnish the two-bedroom apartment.

I appreciate for that … make for me as home,” Khalid Atayi says. “I happy for that.”

The kids are making themselves at home.

Two-year-old Abdul Rakhman runs around sporting sunglasses. Khadija motions toward the room she shares with her 7-year-old sister, Zahra. She opens the closet so she can show off something that was donated to her: a brand new, hot pink backpack that’s loaded with school supplies.

Asked what her favorite thing to do for fun is, Khadija answers, “school.” When asked if she misses school, she says, “yes.”

Khalid Atayi says as hard as it was to leave his homeland, he knows his daughters and wife will have more opportunity — and the whole family will have a better future — far from the Taliban.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

The Atayi family gathers with cousins and new friends two days after moving into their apartment in Worcester. They fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took control. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Atayi family gathers with cousins and new friends two days after moving into their apartment in Worcester. They fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took control. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Copyright 2021 WBUR

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