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At Least 27 California students still grounded in Afghanistan amid swirling uncertainty

Source: USA Today

The United States wrapped up its wholesale evacuations from Kabul, Afghanistan, in line with President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline. However, in the wake of the final U.S. flight out of the Kabul airport earlier in the week, it is reported that about 27 students from a California school district are still trapped within the country with looming uncertainty regarding their exit.

Officials from the Cajon Valley Union School District in the San Diego area reported that three students from one family were stranded in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over, while San Juan Unified School District officials from the Sacramento area revealed that they had been in touch with least 24 students and their families who were left behind in Afghanistan. According to media outlets, the students had been visiting their families and relatives in the country, during the summer break, prior to the President’s evacuation deadline.

Most of the families working with Americans had been given special immigrant visas, and a few of the children are U.S.-born. However, even though the U.S. government has said it expects the Taliban to honor the agreement to allow safe passage for Americans who chose to stay behind and for others who choose to leave, the circumstances do not seem to reflect that understanding. Instead, the households have met with hostilities, including a 3-year-old boy born in Sacramento, whose family was severely beaten and pushed back by the Taliban while trying to flee the war-torn state.

According to district official Mike Serban, there are reports that I.D.s and passports have also been burned, making it arduous to validate Americans still trapped. “It is a bigger picture than just our district,” he added.

The students and their families could not make it to the airport during the airlift due to the numerous Taliban checkpoints and the thousands of Afghans who thronged every available access point to the airport. Now that the airlift is no longer viable—given that the Kabul airport is no longer operating commercial flights, the districts have sought ‘alternative strategies’ to evacuate the families safely.

Speaking with USA TODAY, Raj Rai, the director of operations for the district, stated, “We believe that some of these families may be in transit out of Afghanistan, as we have not been able to reach many of them in the last few days.” In addition, he said, “We stand ready to support these students and families in whatever way that we can and are working closely with state elected officials to provide them information as we receive it … We sincerely hope for their speedy and safe return back to the U.S. and back to our school communities.”

The office of Ami Bera, Representing the District of California, conveyed that his office was keeping in touch with the San Juan Unified School District and was pressuring all relevant channels toward a swift resolution to the situation. Ami Bera’s communications director, Travis Horne, stated, “We are pushing the Department of Defense and State Department for an update.” Speaking with Reuters, Mike Serban said further, “We don’t have any operational details. For the safety of the families, they just let us know they’re working on it.”

In the almost three weeks since the Taliban assumed control, the situation in Afghanistan remains largely unclear, with thousands of at-risk Afghans, women’s rights advocates, journalists, and interpreters who worked with the United States military also still hedged in within the country and living in fear of possible retaliation from the Taliban.

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