Afghan who evacuated to Poland has allies in Colorado who hope to bring him to Fort Collins
In August, as the U.S. was withdrawing from Afghanistan, Mahmod Shamsi and his family went into hiding. Because he had worked for the Afghan government, the Taliban was looking for him. He feared for his life. His phone was his lifeline to friends like Kelsey Baun in Fort Collins.
“This is where I get emotional, but I immediately hang up the phone and I just have this moment of like, if he's going to die, then I have to try everything I can,” Baun told KUNC two months ago.
Baun helped launch a campaign, Mobilize for Mahmod, to advocate for Shamsi, his wife — who is a doctor — their two young girls, and Shamsi’s sister. Eventually, the family got plane tickets, but when they arrived at the airport’s gates in Kabul, they found them well-guarded. Fearing the unpredictable crowds, Shamsi almost gave up. Baun and others told him to hang on. Then the gates opened.
“We pushed our way,” Shamsi said. “My kids were screaming and crying like hell. My wife was screaming and I had to pull her hand and she was pulling my sister's hand and I was holding one of my kids and trying to push our way and somehow we made it.”
Baun and others hoped that the former Fulbright scholar, who studied for his MBA at Colorado State University, would wind up in Fort Collins. But the family took the first flight they found – a humanitarian mission from Poland. That’s where Shamsi remains.
In a Zoom call to discuss what’s happened since that time, Shamsi says he’s found a two-room apartment in Krakow and will soon have paperwork that allows him to work and travel in Europe. He’s grateful for the situation and to Poland and its people, who he says helped save his life. Still, it’s difficult.
“For me, the only country I saw myself – my future, my everything – was Afghanistan,” Shamsi said.
Now he says he must find a new home. If he could pick anywhere in the world, Shamsi would pick Fort Collins.
“Honestly, I don't want to be anywhere else but Colorado because I feel like that's where I can have friends and I can have families who would be in touch with me and I wouldn't feel alone,” he said.
There are people in Fort Collins who want him in Colorado, especially those who know Shamsi from his time studying at CSU’s Impact MBA program, where students devise plans for sustainable ventures that aim to solve social, environmental, health and other pressing problems. That includes clinical professor of management, Asad Aziz.
“Pretty cosmopolitan, very much a person who enjoys new experiences and has a very rich view of the world in terms of understanding different perspectives,” Aziz said of Shamsi. “I find him quite thoughtful and empathetic.”
Aziz was raised in Pakistan and born in Peshawar, a city that’s close to the Afghan border.
“I know a little bit about Afghanistan,” Aziz said. “I appreciate the culture. I appreciated the music when I was growing up.”
Now he sees a chance to help Shamsi and how Shamsi can help Colorado.
“Mahmod has qualifications and experience that he would be a catch for many organizations in the U.S.,” Aziz said. “So, I've been advocating for him at CSU in terms of thinking of him as a candidate for several jobs and so on.”
The hopeful idea to bring Shamsi to Colorado is easier said than done. But the potential of a job certainly helps, according to Jamie Crawford, an immigration attorney with Bakken Law in Denver.
“What we are trying to do with Mahmod and anybody in his situation is identify, ‘Are there more traditional immigration remedies that they might be able to pursue?’” she said. “So, something based on family relationships or employment opportunities.”
Crawford volunteered to work pro bono after being contacted through university networks.
“One of the really cool things about U.S. immigration law is that there are options for people that would bring benefits to the U.S., whether we're talking culturally or economically, and so if he has an employer who is willing to petition for a visa on his behalf, then that's certainly something we can pursue,” Crawford said.
However, the U.S. immigration system is notoriously complex and slow. While a special case could be made to rush paperwork, Crawford says that’s rare and the most likely scenario is that it will be years before Shamsi and his family could call Colorado home.
“That's unfortunately the case,” she said. “I think it is most likely going to be two years or longer.”
That means that even though Mahmod Shamsi and his family are safe in Poland, their hopes for a new life remain unsettled.
“You know, a month ago, we were staying in another home and now we're staying in another home,” he said. “Who knows where we will be in next month and six months or a year? Also not good because you feel like you're just a traveler, you're just passing by.”
Shamsi pauses with a smile and raises his eyebrows and shoulders, and adds that while he has recovered from the trauma of leaving everything behind in Afghanistan, he often thinks of the people who wanted to evacuate but could not.
“What has happened since then in Afghanistan and the situation affecting friends and families, that I cannot disconnect for myself, and I suffer with them,” he said. “I cry with them. I feel pain with them.”
He touches on the history of his homeland – how the Taliban brought harsh Islamic fundamentalism to Afghanistan in the mid 1990s until the U.S.-led invasion of 2001. How Afghans like him who stood for democratic ideals, who advocated for women’s rights, are easy targets of the Taliban.
“I don't think that in my lifetime would be enough to return,” Shamsi said.
In his heart, Shamsi says, he will always be an Afghan. There are two kinds of people in the world, he says. One kind are those who have one country and one home. The other kind are those who have more than one country and more than one home. Now Shamsi is trying to become one of those people
“I have been trying to make myself believe,” Shamsi said.