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U.S. Aims To Reunite Afghan Children Separated From Families During Evacuations

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the rush to escape the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, hundreds of children ended up getting separated from their families. Many are now in transit centers at military bases in Qatar and Germany. The U.S., the U.N. and other aid groups are trying to reunite them with relatives. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited with some of these young Afghans in Germany. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: About 25 teenagers are doing artwork, kicking a soccer ball or playing volleyball in a fenced-off area of Ramstein Air Base, which now houses 11,000 Afghan refugees. Captain Maritza Andicoechea is showing Blinken around the tents for unaccompanied teenagers and young adults.

MARITZA ANDICOECHEA: Yeah. So we asked them what they wanted to call the camp, and they called it Angel Garden.

ANTONY BLINKEN: Hello. Hi. My name is Tony. Nice to see all of you.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Thank you. How are you? (Laughter).

KELEMEN: They know only a couple of words of English and then switched to Dari, speaking through an interpreter.

Twenty-one-year-old Fatullah says she was separated from her mother, who's still stuck in Kabul, which is why she didn't give her last name. Fatullah made it out and gathered some of the other younger girls under her wing.

FATULLAH: (Speaking Dari).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: It was very difficult to get to the airport because everywhere was danger waiting for them. She was telling me that the bullets were flying left and right from their ears.

KELEMEN: They've been processed for resettlement, and one 13-year-old boy is among those heading soon to the U.S. Capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C.

BLINKEN: I want to tell you that many, many, many Americans are really looking forward to welcoming you and to having you come to the United States and be part of our country.

KELEMEN: But here at Ramstein and earlier in Doha, Secretary Blinken heard many concerns about those left behind.

BLINKEN: We're also going to be trying to help people who are still in Afghanistan - your families, your friends.

KELEMEN: That will require the Taliban to keep their pledge to allow people to leave Afghanistan. Blinken and his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, gathered more than 20 foreign ministers for a virtual meeting to try to get everyone on the same page.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLINKEN: The Taliban seek international legitimacy and support. Any legitimacy, any support will have to be earned. And we heard that across the board.

KELEMEN: But the Taliban's actions so far and the government they've announced leave little room for optimism.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.