In a new apartment, in a new city halfway around the world from home, Noorullah Noori is trying to believe that he can make the American dream come true for his two young children — but his mind is never far from the rest of his family back home in Afghanistan, and from the future that may await his family if they are not able to stay in the United States.
Noori, his wife Samya and two daughters, Taqwa, age 2, and Zahara, 10 months, are four of the more than 50 Afghan evacuees who have landed at the Manchester airport in recent weeks, to be resettled in New Hampshire and the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts after fleeing the resurgent Taliban in late August.
After working as an interpreter for the U.S. Marines in 2010 and 2011, Noori believed he would be in danger should the Taliban ever return to power in Afghanistan.
He had hoped to come to the United States in 2014, but he lost touch with the Marines who supervised him, the people who would have needed to vouch for him to come to the United States.
But until this summer, Noori was able to make a life for himself. He went to university, and received his degree in English literature in 2016. He has worked as an English teacher, mostly near home in Jalalabad — one of the largest cities in Afghanistan, situated in the east of the country — but also working a stint at a university in the capital, Kabul.
Life was sometimes interrupted by violence, Noori said, as the Taliban and factions of the Islamic State vie for control of the area. Noori said his younger brother was detained by a branch of the Islamic State for a month before his father and uncles could negotiate his release. Noori said his work with the American military was largely to blame.
Then the United States began pulling out of Afghanistan in 2021, and the Taliban steadily gained territory over the spring and summer.
Noori was afraid.
“Because teaching English, it’s an American language,” he said. And everyone knew he had worked with the American military. He would be in danger when the Americans were gone.
Then, a lifeline.
Noori’s supervisor from his days working with the Marines found him on Facebook. He wanted to know how he was doing amid the rising chaos in Afghanistan. With his help, Noori said, he was able to complete the paperwork showing he had faithfully served the U.S. military, and could apply for a Special Immigrant Visa.
Unlike refugee visas, which sometimes involve a years-long application processes, and years if not decades of limbo in refugee camps, the U.S. State Department issued thousands of Special Immigrant Visas quickly over the summer, and granted “humanitarian parole” to thousands more whose visas were still in progress, which gives evacuees temporary legal residency in the United States.
Noori was able to get his family out of Afghanistan with humanitarian parole as American forces evacuated Kabul in late August, while he waits for his Special Immigrant Visa to be processed.
After a layover in Qatar and a week at the American base in Rammstein, Germany, the family landed in El Paso, Texas, Noori said.
Meanwhile, Noori said, the Taliban had come looking for him. A few days after he arrived in Texas, he got a call from his father. He had been detained and beaten by the Taliban for three days before the Taliban let him go and took Noori’s brother, who Noori said had also been beaten. They wanted to know where Noori was, he explained, but he had already gone.
“I’m so concerned about my little brother,” Noori said. His parents are begging Noori to find a way to bring his brother to the United States.
But Noori knows how harsh immigration law can be in the United States.
“I’m not an ambassador,” he said. “I’m just a simple person.”
Noori said he also worries about his sister, who had been in her second year at university, studying toward a psychology degree. Now, he said, it is not clear if she will ever be able to return to her studies.
But with his wife and children, Noori had to move forward.
One late night last week, Noori, Samya, Taqwa and Zahara landed at the Manchester airport, on a flight with another Afghan family. The Noori family had spent 74 days living with other evacuees at Fort Bliss, a military base in El Paso, Noori said, before flying to Manchester on Nov. 18.
Life in New England began with one little speed bump.
The family’s stroller was left behind at the airport in Newark, N.J. — but a woman who works at the Manchester airport, Namreen Awan of Londonderry, helped them file a lost-luggage claim.
Working nights at the airport, Awan said she has seen dozens of Afghan evacuees arrive in recent weeks. Awan grew up in Pakistan, she said, and meeting the newcomers reminds her of the disorientation of her own arrival in the United States, back in 1995.
“That’s why I try to help as much as possible,” Awan said. “I try to do whatever I can do.”
Sharing some languages with Afghan arrivals, Awan said sometimes she is able to step in as a translator, or help place a call to a caseworker or the resettlement agency if no one is waiting to meet the families at the gate. In the case of the Nooris, Awan said, she can help an overwhelmed young family handle paperwork after a stressful journey.
A new life?
Just over a week after he landed, Noori is working with his caseworker to settle into a new life in Lowell, Mass. The family has a bare-bones apartment, Noori said, with no washing machine, but he said his caseworker has been helpful.
It’s cold, he said, much colder than Jalalabad. But he can see a future here.
“It’s a good place,” he said. “People told me you can find a lot of jobs here,” Noori said, and he is excited to learn about local history.
Noori said he is hoping to find work teaching English to other Afghan arrivals, or as an interpreter. He wants to be able to settle in, and begin to feel at home after a long journey.
But his family back home is never far from his mind — and he is worried about what might happen if his Special Immigrant Visa is not approved, and he cannot stay in the United States.
A Special Immigrant Visa would make Noori a lawful permanent resident in the United States. But if it is not approved, he said his humanitarian parole will last just two years, hardly enough time to build a new life. He still has to wait for paperwork that will let him start working.
“We don’t know for how many weeks or months we’re going to be waiting to get a job permit,” Noori said. Two years will be gone “like a nap,” he said.
He wants to tell his daughters they will have a bright future in America. He wants to tell them they will never again wake up to gun battles in the neighborhood, never again hear the sound of bombs. But if his Special Immigrant Visa is not approved, and he cannot stay, Noori said, he will feel like he is letting his family down.