Students from a suburb of San Diego that’s home to a large number of refugees are trapped in Afghanistan after their families took summer trips to the embattled nation, according to the school district the students attend.
Cajon Valley Union School district in El Cajon announced that 24 of its students will not start the school year on August 17 because their families cannot reach the military side of the Kabul airport.
The families, many of them in the U.S. on special immigrant visas, had traveled separately to Afghanistan to visit relatives still living there. Swarms of people continue to converge on the airport in a desperate attempt to flee the Taliban-controlled nation.
“Just like you and I, they had used the summer to go back to see their relatives,” Superintendent David Miyashiro said. “No one felt that were going to be unsafe or unable to return.”
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Most of the families came to the United States on a special immigrant visa after having worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, officials said. The visa allows only the former government employee and immediate family to come to the United States.
He added that the families are particularly scared because of the upcoming Aug. 31 deadline for the United States to end its withdrawal.
Many of the families left in early May and June, months before the crisis unfolded and the president of Afghanistan fled as the Taliban seized power, officials said.
The district has been in direct contact with the families and was working with Republican Rep. Darrell Issa’s office to try to help get them out safely. The children range from preschoolers to high school students.
Jonathan Wilcox of Issa’s office said in an email to the San Diego Union-Tribune that the congressman and his staff “were working diligently to determine the facts on the ground, any bureaucratic barriers that can be removed, and the best ways to help those stranded leave Afghanistan and return home safely.”
“We won’t stop until we have answers and action,” he wrote.
Officials became aware of the problem after getting a call from a relative of one of the students on Aug. 16, a day before the school year was to begin, to report that the child would be absent and ask officials to hold their spot.
Miyashiro said the 24 students attend different schools in the district. He said he could not provide more details since the children and their parents could be in danger.
“It’s killing us right now,” Cajon Valley school board president Tamara Otero told the newspaper. “We are so worried about our students that are stuck there. We’ll do the best we can to get them out.”