BENNINGTON — Mount Anthony Union High School graduate Ziaulhaq Zia has started a GoFundMe fund-raising campaign to assist members of his family who have crossed the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan, but only after a harrowing journey and having to hand over all their money at the border.
His online campaign is being supported by Jeanne Davis of Pownal, whose family hosted Zia a decade ago when he was an Afghan exchange student attending MAUHS.
Zia is a member of the MAUHS class of 2012 and has lived in Minnesota for several years. He has obtained an immigration green card and hopes to become a U.S. citizen next spring.
“My five siblings and an uncle and their families left everything behind in [their home town of] Kunduz, Afghanistan, to escape torture by the Taliban,” Zia said in a post on the GoFundMe page. “They crossed some twenty Taliban checkpoints along the way to Kabul from Kunduz. They then spent two days at the gates behind the Kabul Airport hoping to get evacuated, but it didn’t work out. They were beaten some while there. They almost lost some of their kids and family members in the attempt to get inside the airport.”
Zia, 29, said in a Banner phone interview this week that the family members were for a time at the airport gate where ISIS-K suicide bombs killed 13 American military personnel and scores of Afghans in a crowd of thousands at the airport.
He said they left the gate hours before the attack to head for the border in motor vehicles.
Zia said in his post that the family had to travel from Kabul to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan to cross the border and are now in Karachi, Pakistan, “waiting and hoping to come to the U.S.”
He added, “After laying low for three days at the … border in Kandahar, they were able to cross the border by giving up everything they had saved to smugglers.”
Zia has said he’s working with attorneys to facilitate the applications of his family members for humanitarian parole status, which would allow them to come to the U.S.
Davis and Bruce Wheat, of Pownal, hosted Zia as an exchange student during his high school years, beginning in 2009. She posted comments on the GoFundMe site in a plea to help the family.
“Zia’s family has been targeted in the past by the Taliban and feared for their lives if they couldn’t get out,” Davis wrote. “They had had to go to ‘Plan B’ as the Kabul Airport was no longer a safe way to exit. His siblings and their families have just managed to cross into Pakistan, and they will apply for a Humanitarian Parole status with the United States. We’ve been told they should qualify.”
She added, “Zia is a permanent resident of Minnesota and two years ago managed to get his youngest sister enrolled in an independent high school, also in Minnesota. His parents, an uncle and the uncle’s family are hoping to get out of the country in the near future. All of his family are at risk due to past persecutions and past associations with the Afghan Army and with the USA.”
Davis said that money “is needed immediately and if you have any avenues of additional support we’d be most grateful.”