zReportage - Amazing Stories from Around the World
share
| about | 8:53 PST
 GO
HIDE CAPTION
TUESDAY September 28, 2021: 'EXODUS TO AMERICA' by Pulitzer winning Sacramento Bee Photographer Renee C. Byer and investigative reporter Jason Pohl: They headed to the airport on Aug. 15, the day Taliban fighters stormed into Kabul, took control of the presidential palace and toppled Afghanistan's government. As panic and uncertainty swept the city, Abdul and his family boarded a plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport. ''Flight attendants announced, tighten our belts, then we will fly soon,'' Abdul said through an interpreter. The family, Abdul's wife and six of their children who range in age from 4 years old to 20, obeyed along with hundreds of other people onboard Qatar Airways flight 7323. ''And then nothing happened.'' Welcome to: 'EXODUS TO AMERICA'
© zReportage.com Story of the Week #807: TUESDAY September 28, 2021: 'EXODUS TO AMERICA' by Pulitzer winning Sacramento Bee Photographer Renee C. Byer and investigative reporter Jason Pohl: They headed to the airport on Aug. 15, the day Taliban fighters stormed into Kabul, took control of the presidential palace and toppled Afghanistan's government. As panic and uncertainty swept the city, Abdul and his family boarded a plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport. ''Flight attendants announced, tighten our belts, then we will fly soon,'' Abdul said through an interpreter. The family, Abdul's wife and six of their children who range in age from 4 years old to 20, obeyed along with hundreds of other people onboard Qatar Airways flight 7323. ''And then nothing happened.'' Welcome to: 'EXODUS TO AMERICA'
Afghan refugee ABDUL, left, who worked security for the U.S. Embassy, is helped by his oldest son RASHED, 20, as both OMAR MUSTAFA, center left, and AHMADALLAH AHMADI, center right, of Lao Family Community Development, look for other Afghan families arriving at Sacramento International Airport.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Afghan refugees ABDUL, 46, and his youngest son ABDULLAH, 4, push a luggage cart belonging to their family of eight past a sign reading 'Welcome to Sacramento International Airport.' Their harrowing journey began the day before after the Taliban captured the city of Kabul, where Abdul had worked providing security to the U.S. embassy. 'I thought our lives are in danger,' he said.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Former Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holder OMAR MUSTAFA of Lao Family Community Development, pushes luggage with newly arrived Afghan SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) holder ABDUL, left, towards Abdul's family of eight at the Sacramento International Airport. The family will have to go to a hotel because of the housing shortage in Sacramento.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
After 10 p.m. Afghan refugee RASHED, 20, leads his family of eight through a parking deck at Sacramento International Airport toward a Lao Family Community Development van that will transfer them to a hotel after evacuating Sunday from Kabul after stops in Qatar and Washington D.C.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
With the possessions that his family had managed to bring from Afghanistan on carts, ABDUL chats with NAIMANTULLAH SULTANI, far right, of the resettlement agency Lao Family Community Development, which picked up the family at Sacramento International Airport. Sultani also came to the U.S. from Afghanistan with a Special Immigrant Visa in 2019.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Afghan refugees ISTORAY, 15, left, her mom ADELA, center and sister SURAYA, 18, show mixed emotions as they board a Lao Family Community Development van after arriving in Sacramento. The family began their journey in Kabul just days before, as the Taliban took control of their homeland. The resettlement organization had less than 24 hours to prepare for the arrival of the family.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Afghan refugee ABDUL, right, looks over his family's passports as the manager of the America's Best Value Inn, left, unlocks the door to register the family of eight into two rooms, as Lao Family Community Development caseworker AHMADALLAH AHMADI, center, helps with with his families resettlement in North Highlands. With the housing crisis in Sacramento a hotel stay was the only option because Lao resettlement agency had less then 24-hours to prepare for their arrival.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Afghan refugees ZULAIKHA, 13, left, and her sister ISTORAY, 15, the daughters of Abdul, a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holder who worked for the U.S. Embassy as security for the past 19 years, arrive late at night to America's Best Value Inn in North Highlands. The family left a home they co-owned with an uncle and sold their car so that each family member could afford the medical exams in Afghanistan to evacuate to the U.S.
© Renee C. Byer/ZUMA Press Wire
Afghan refugees ZULAIKHA, 13, right, her sister HASIBA, 8, left, and brother RASHED, 20, center, settle into their room after walking past bags of garbage, a strong smell of marijuana, and a battered doorway in North Highlands. Normally it would be customary for them to take off their shoes before entering a living space but they all chose not to after seeing the condition.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
After gently knocking on America's Best Value Inn door OMAR MUSTAFA KARAMKHIL, a case worker at Lao Community Development, discovered Abdul's family who had traveled to Sacramento on a Special Immigrant Visa from Afghanistan the night before were disappointed with the substandard accommodations and had left to spend the day at a cousin's house in North Highlands.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
ABDUL's family members listen to an orientation by Lao Community Development case worker OMAR MUSTAFA KARAMKHIL, left, also a Special Immigrant Visa holder, inside Abdul's cousin's apartment in Sacramento. After spending ten days in a hotel they moved into their cousin's apartment complex on Sept. 1.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Behind a worn banister at America's Best Value Inn in North Highlands, Afghan refugee ZULAIKHA, 13, plays on a tablet computer, a few days after arriving in the United States. Her father Abdul said the family will enroll their children in school once they are vaccinated.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Sitting in a cramped North Highlands hotel room, ABDULLAH snacks on a cracker as his father ABDUL talks about the fear he felt as their plane sat for hours on tarmac at the Kabul airport as Afghanistan's government fell to the Taliban. The first thought Abdul said he had upon landing in the U.S. was 'I feel safe.'
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
BEHSHTA, 21, holds a school picture showing her youngest sister Neda, 9, second from left in top row, as she worries in their Arden Arcade bedroom whether his sisters will return from Afghanistan. She said the schools call every day asking when Neda, of Dyer-Kelly Elementary School and Sabrina, 15, of Encina High School, will return to class. The family explained that they are in hiding from the Taliban and can't get to the airport. It's unclear exactly what their path back to California might be. Dozens of students from San Diego County were also in Afghanistan in recent days and have gradually been evacuated back to the U.S. An untold number remain missing.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee via ZUMA Press Wire
HUMAIRA, 21, wipes tears after explaining her mother is still in Afghanistan at a meeting at Mira Loma High School in Arden Arcade, to help families assist relatives affected by the Taliban takeover of the country. Home to more than 1,400 students who are Afghan refugees, San Juan Unified School District school district officials know there are Sacramento-area kids stranded in Afghanistan. It's unclear exactly what their path back to California might be.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee via ZUMA Press Wire
Mira Loma High School teacher JOSHUA STINSON leads a discussion, to help students who might have family members still in Afghanistan to better understand the law and how to fill out paperwork to help them evacuate the country. Discussions in the meeting included adding qualified family members to the Afghanistan evacuation contact database, connecting with the U.S. Embassy for flights and evacuations, and contacting members of Congress to rally support for Afghans who need assistance. Home to more than 1,400 students who are Afghan refugees, San Juan Unified School District school district officials know there are Sacramento-area kids stranded in Afghanistan.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee via ZUMA Press Wire
KATHY CHAO ROTHBERG, executive director of Lao Family Community Development, listens to Afghan refugee NAIMATULLAH SULTANI, right, a member of her resettlement team. Sultani came over on a Special Immigrant Visa in 2019 and is one of several SIV's working for her that understand the resettlement process. Rothberg said she prefers to resettle refugees in permanent housing not hotels when they arrive. She would like federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to support a more permanent solution so she could buy apartment complexes or hotels with appropriate amenities. Then the resettlement hotel money would not be wasted and the refugees would have stability from the start, she said.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Afghan refugee ABDUL stands with his family in the new apartment complex. Back row: ISTORAY, 15, RASHED, 20, SURAYA, 19, wife ADELA, 41. Front row: HASIBA, 8, ABDULLAH, 4, and ZULAIKHA, 13. The family left Afghanistan Sunday August 16, arriving in Sacramento on that following Monday, fleeing the Taliban that had just taken control of Kabul.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holder ABDUL prays in his new apartment. He said, through son Rashed's translation, that he was praying for a good life in America for his family, and peace for those who remained in Afghanistan. 'No bombs, no fighting' he said.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
ABDULLAH, 4, bounces on a new couch in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment he lives in with his family of eight. In the foreground, a plastic binder holds over a dozen certificates and commendations for his father Abdul, who came to the U.S. on a Special Immigrant Visa after serving as security for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for 19 years.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Afghans HASIBA, 8, and her brother ABDULLAH, 4, improvise with a basketball as they play soccer in front of a cousin's apartment in the same complex they are now living in Sacramento. Hesiba, who will continue school in Sacramento, said she wants to work in law enforcement when she grows up. 'I like police,' she said with a big smile.
© Renee C. Byer/Sacramento Bee/ZUMA Press Wire
Renée C. Byer :: zReportage Photo

Renée C. Byer is an American documentary photojournalist best known for her in-depth work focusing on the disadvantaged and those who otherwise would not be heard. Byer’s ability to produce photographs with profound emotional resonance and sensitivity earned her the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 2007 and made her a Pulitzer finalist in 2013. Renée has covered local, national, and international stories for The Sacramento Bee since 2003. Renée work has been published in books, magazines, newspapers, and on websites worldwide and was the basis for a 2009 TEDx Tokyo talk that received a standing ovation. Renée’s most recent book project “Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor,” invites you to help put an end to global poverty. Renée traveled to 10 countries on four continents to report on this story, with a forward by the Dalai Lama. The book has won numerous accolades worldwide, including the IPA’s First Place for a Documentary book. Byer’s reportage is proudly represented by ZUMA Press and been featured in award winning zReportage.com a record ten times, as well as DOUBLEtruck Magazine. When not on assignment, Renée can be found sharing her passion for photography at lectures and workshops worldwide. Renée C. Byer lives in Sacramento, California, USA.:807



HELP