6 East County families make it out of Afghanistan; others remain

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Six families from a San Diego suburb have now made it safely out of Afghanistan after they went to the country earlier this summer to visit relatives and got stuck there amid the chaos following the Taliban’s takeover, officials said Monday.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of two other families from El Cajon, east of San Diego, remained unclear. One family may have gotten on one of the last U.S. flights out of Afghanistan on Monday, while authorities were working to help the other family, which was still in the country, the Cajon Valley Union School District said.

The last U.S. planes departed around midnight Monday, marking the end of a massive airlift in which tens of thousands of people fled Afghanistan, fearful of the return of Taliban rule after it seized power earlier this month.

“We are still holding out hope” that the families can get out, said Howard Shen, spokesman for the Cajon Valley Union School District.

The district learned on Aug. 16 that eight families who have children enrolled in the district were stranded in Afghanistan after a relative of one of the families alerted school officials that their children would be missing the first day of the school year, which began Aug. 17.

As Americans look for a safe way out, so are Afghans.

“The crisis in Afghanistan, we used to think it was over there,” said Walter Lam, president and CEO of Alliance for African Assistance in San Diego County, “Now, it’s right here with us.”

Lam said the nonprofit already has taken in 70 Afghan refugees and they’re expecting more than 500 more. The organization will look to raise nearly $250,000 to pay for things such as rent and food while refugees go through the process of seeking asylum.

Donations can be made online at alliance-for-africa.org.

“I think they will be coming very, very rapidly, so we have to be prepared for them,” he said.

El Cajon has a large refugee population, and the families had gone to Afghanistan in May and early June, weeks before the crisis unfolded. They were not part of an organized trip and traveled separately.

Three of the families were able to get out last week and make it back to El Cajon. Several of their children returned to school on Monday to the open arms of their teachers and classmates, the district said.

Three more families also made it safely out but were still on their way back to the United States, according to the district.

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