Breaking: American Citizens Finally Return Home from Afghanistan after Months in Prison-Like Refugee Camp

Two American citizens who were trapped overseas after rescuing their families from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan have returned home to the U.S. after nearly seven months in a United Arab Emirates refugee compound they both described as prison-like.

Both Bilal Ahmad, 28, and another man who asked to be identified by his nickname, Ace, were frustrated by how long it took U.S. officials to process their families' cases and to give them permission to enter the country. National Review profiled both of their cases in January.

"I was full of depression. I was full of anxiety. I was like a crazy person," Ahmad said of his time in UAE's Humanitarian City refugee compound, and of his experience with the U.S. State Department bureaucracy. "Every door that I knocked, nobody was giving me the right answers."

Ahmad, who started working with the U.S. military as a teenager in 2009 and moved to the U.S. in 2014, arrived home with his wife and 5-year-old son late last week. Ahmad already knew in January that he had lost his IT job, and he suspected he'd also lost his New York City apartment.

He and his family are now living in an apartment in the Columbus, Ohio, area, he said.

"I'm not going to just go back to New York. Things were pretty expensive, the traffic. I said, 'New York is not anymore for me,'" he said. "I know that I'm starting from zero. Even if I was renting a place in New York City, I will be starting my life from zero, because I lost everything."

Ace, 33, who first moved to the U.S. in 2012, flew home to California with his pregnant wife on April 21 after about six and a half months in the refugee compound. He got his job back working as an auto-finance manager for a car dealership and returned to work last week, he said.

He said his wife, who has never been to the U.S. before, is happy to be in California with him.

"We just went shopping — grocery shopping, clothes shopping," he said. "So far, she loves it: the weather and everything, the area, the place where I live."

Ace waiting in Humanitarian City.

Both men are American citizens who are originally from Afghanistan. They both married Afghan women and have been working through the immigration process for years to bring their wives to the U.S. Both men returned to Afghanistan last summer to rescue their wives — and in Ahmad's case, his young son — from the chaos surrounding the Taliban's takeover of the country, and the Biden administration's bungled withdrawal after nearly 20 years of war. Both families flew out of the country in October and ended up in the Humanitarian City compound.

They were among the thousands of Afghanistan evacuees who've been held in the compound, often for months on end, waiting to be processed so they can be relocated to another country. Protests erupted in February at the compound over the long immigration wait times and the conditions at the Abu Dhabi facility, according to media reports.

Both Ahmad and Ace expected they would fly home in a matter of weeks, and technically, both men could have. But their wives, and Ahmad's son, could not because their travel documents hadn't been approved. Neither man was willing to leave them in the compound alone.

Ace said his wife was attacked by a man in the compound. He said he called the compound's police, but "they didn't care." He said there were a lot of "wild people" there.

"I couldn't stay in a room with my wife 24-7, and my wife didn't want to go out," he said.

Both men described a plodding, inefficient, and seemingly disorganized process to get their wives' visas approved. Ahmad said he was told repeatedly that his wife needed a medical checkup, even after she'd already completed the checkup. "They just did so many mistakes," he said.

Ace's wife's visa was delayed in part because she was hesitant to take the Covid-19 vaccine while pregnant. Gary Maziarz, a former U.S. Marines staff sergeant who helped Ace and his wife, said it was a "disaster" that it took nearly seven months for them to get home.

"He's an American, and her application has been in since 2018. It's not like he just filed it," Maziarz said. "It was unsatisfactory that they kept an American and his wife waiting there."

Jen Wilson, chief operating officer with the nonprofit Army Week Association, helped Ahmad navigate the logistical maze to get his wife and son into the country. Records indicate that Ahmad started the immigration process for his wife in 2017. Wilson said it shouldn’t have taken that long to get her green card approved, but even if it did, there were other paths to expedite Ahmad’s family’s passage into the U.S.

“If we have Americans trapped behind lines and at refugee camps with their families, and the only option to get out is leave their children or their spouse, to me, that doesn't compute,” Wilson said, adding that Ahmad loves what America stands for. “He chose to be one of us. And we told him that he had to stay in a refugee camp because his wife wasn't welcome and his kid wasn't welcome.”

Ahmad  said he intends to travel back to New York in the coming days to get his car and his belongings. But he's looking forward to finding a new job in software development and restarting his life with his wife and son in Ohio.

"The people are very nice here in Ohio," he said. "So, I'm pretty happy. As long as my wife and kid is happy, I'm happy, too."

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American Citizens Finally Return Home from Afghanistan after Months in Prison-Like Refugee Camp

Both men described a plodding, seemingly disorganized process to get their wives' visas ... READ MORE

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