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Afghan journalist arrives to the U.S. with help from Idahoan

Posted at 7:38 PM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 17:33:05-04

MAGIC VALLEY — Heath Druzin, a freelance reporter in Idaho, covered Afghanistan and Iraq on and off from 2009 to 2016. During that time, he met Zubair Babakarkhail: an Afghan journalist who helped him translate and even get out of dangerous situations.

So when Druzin first heard of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, he immediately thought of Zubair.

“I was out on the mountains on a very Idaho kind of trip, and I was out of cell phone rang. I got back on a Sunday to all of this furry of messages saying that Kabul had fallen. My first thought was, oh god, we have to get Zubair out," Druzin said.

Knowing how dangerous being a journalist is under the Taliban, Druzin feared for Zubair's safety and wanted to do something to help him flee.

“Being a journalist is bad enough under the Taliban, but being a journalist that is connected to the U.S., it’s a bad place to be as an Afghan," Druzin said.

The efforts to get Zubair out also included his wife and three young children, making the mission much more difficult.

But Druzin partnered with other journalists who had connections to people who were helping in the evacuation efforts to come up with a plan to get Zeubair out.

“I got in contact with as many people as I could who were connected to him who might have some connections with people who were doing the evacuation because I knew we needed to coordinate it in a chaotic situation,” Druzain said.

The chaotic events that unfolded at the Kabul airport are what prolonged the efforts to get Zubair out of Afghanistan.

Although Zubair was approved for a flight and had all the documents he needed, it took him a week and a half to get to the gate at the airport because of the amount of people desperate to flee.

“It was trial and error just going into that crowd. He was injured at one point, injured badly enough that he was worried he was going to lose consciousness and had to abandon his efforts for the day. And remember he’s with his wife and three young children when all of this is happening so you know he has to be careful about what risks he’s going to take.” Druzin said.

Zubair spent ten days trying to communicate with those guarding the gate to tell them he had been approved for a flight.

During that time, Druzin said he feared for Zubair's safety especially because there were talks about attacks at the airport.

"That was very worrying, and it did happen. And it didn't happen very long after he left. I think it was about a day after he left that that awful bombing happened that killed nearly 200 civilians outside the gate," Druzin said.

After ten days, Zubair and his family were able to board a flight. They arrived in the U.S. last Thursday.

“We’re all very thankful. He’s got a long way to go in the process, but he’s at a U.S. base in Wisconsin," Druzin said.

Druzin and the other journalists also started fundraising efforts to help Zubair and their families get back on their feet. So far, they have raised $30,000.

“Which is a lot of money but keep in mind, he’s starting with nothing here, so it is a lot of money, but he’s going to have a lot of expenses," Druzin said.

Druzin has not yet been able to reunite with Zubair since he arrived in the U.S. but says he is looking forward to the day he will be able to.

“I broke down to be honest because I had tried to keep my emotions in check while we were helping him because I just wanted to focus all efforts on him getting out, so once he got out, all of us who were working on that got to finally let it all out," Druzin said.

If you would like to help in the efforts to get Zubair and his family back on their feet, you can donate here.