Massi was a young child in Afghanistan when the U.S.-led forces moved into the capital city of Kabul, but impressions of the events in 2001 have stayed with him.
“What I remember very clearly is people were celebrating in the streets and people were very happy,” he said.
Images from Afghanistan today stir memories of 2001. Massi said he recalls long lines of trucks and cars as members of Taliban fled Kabul. However, 20 years later, the lines of people and vehicles are fleeing the return of Taliban control.
“It’s very similar, but for a different reason,” he said.
Massi is his first name. The Post Bulletin is not publishing his last name because of his fears that members of his family who remain in the country -- his parents, two sisters and a grandmother -- could be placed in jeopardy if his full identity is discovered by the Taliban. Those family members are somewhere among the masses of people trying to leave the country in the final week of the U.S. military presence there.
Massi's family belongs to the Hazara ethnic minority in Afghanistan. The estimated 3 million to 6 million Hazaras make up most of the country’s minority sect of Shi’ite Muslims. Massi said Hazaras were discriminated against and excluded from the government under Taliban rule. That identity could put them at risk of arrest or worse.
“The fear is that things will be very hard on us with the Taliban’s return,” he said.
A report released Friday by Amnesty International appears to confirm Massi’s fears. The report recounts eye witness accounts of the Taliban killing nine ethnic Hazara men in Ghazni province on July 4 to July 6. Six of the men were shot, and three were tortured to death, according to the report.
His family’s connection to him in the U.S. could put his family members at risk for retribution by the Taliban, he said.
“When it comes to any sort of affiliation with western countries, especially the U.S., that’s a red flag for the Taliban,” he said.
He knows his own criticisms of the Taliban rules out his returning to the country as long as the Taliban are in control.
“A few minutes of scrolling my social media, they would arrest me,” he said.
The Taliban is trying to keep people from leaving and are restricting access to airports and roads out of the country, his family reported.
“(The Taliban) don’t want people to leave and are blaming the west,” he said.
Massi left Afghanistan in 2012 to attend high school in Italy. After that, he attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where he graduated in 2020 before moving to Rochester for a work training practicum program.
He plans to file for asylum, but first wants to ensure he can bring his family here. With less than a week remaining before the stated departure date for U.S. troops, leaving has gotten harder for people in Afghanistan, he said.
“There was more hope a few days ago,” he said. “As time passed by, as the Taliban’s control over the city (Kabul) tightened, it’s getting harder for Afghans right now.”
His family needs paperwork to leave the country, but as services and travel continue to become restricted, Massi is working from Minnesota to help get them to an airport and then apply for refugee status, which as Hazaras, they would qualify.
“The system is overwhelmed,” he said.
Massi is reaching out to religious organizations, other nongovernmental organizations, politicians and now the public in an appeal to help his family get out of Afghanistan.
“I’m trying everything I can think of,” he said. “Even bribing (Afghan officials), but that’s a double-edged sword.”
For now, he stays in touch with his parents when he can and continues to contact officials here for help.
“It’s getting harder,” he said. “But I’m still hopeful.”