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"I'm safe now." Afghan lawyer, who defended women, reunited with family in Texas

 Latifa Sharifi (right) embraces her sister, Atefa Sharifi, near the International Arrival doors at the DFW Airport. Latifa and Atefa were separated from each other for more than a year.
Jacob Wells
/
KERA News
Latifa Sharifi (right) embraces her sister, Atefa Sharifi, near the International Arrival doors at the DFW Airport. Latifa and Atefa were separated from each other for more than a year.

As a human rights lawyer, Latifa Sharifi helped countless women and children in Afghanistan. But when the U.S. military withdrew from the country, she was no longer safe.

She and her three children spent more than a year hiding, first in Afghanistan and then in a safe house in Europe. Behind the scenes, lawyers, human rights advocates and others spent months helping to keep her safe and get her to the U.S. — they succeeded.

On Tuesday, Sharifi and her three sons walked out of the international terminal at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Smiling and crying, she hugged her sister and her sister’s family, who were waiting for her. The family was able to enter the U.S. after securing humanitarian parole visas.

“I feel I’m safe now and I’m free now, and I want this freedom and this safety for all of the Afghan woman, that they also be like me, safe in our country,” Sharifi told reporters inside the terminal.

 Latifa Sharifi (right) speaks with reporters after she arrives at the DFW Airport. Atefa Sharifi (left) carried flowers that her family brought to greet her sister.
Jacob Wells
/
KERA News
Latifa Sharifi (right) speaks with reporters after she arrives at the DFW Airport. Atefa Sharifi (left) carried flowers that her family brought to greet her sister.

The 45-year-old said one of the first things she looked forward to doing was eat dinner with her sister and brother-in-law and their children.

Sharifi and her children tried leaving Afghanistan in August of last year when U.S. troops began pulling out of the country. But she was turned away at the airport, and her youngest son was nearly trampled as people rushed to try get on a plane.

Younger sister, Atefa, who’s 37, cried as she described overwhelming feelings of relief and joy.

“I think my tears explain everything,” 37-year-old Atefa Sharifi said. “It means [the] world to me that she’s here. I’m feeling so happy and so blessed that I’m thinking I cannot ask God anything more.”

Atefa Sharifi said her older sister has been through a lot. When the Taliban took control of Kabul, they began releasing prisoners. Sharifi feared for her life — she had helped many women in abusive marriages file for divorce and now some of the men in those relationships were free.

“She said that I was not that much scared [of] the Taliban,” Atefa Sharifi said, interpreting her sister’s words. “[She said] ‘I was scared of those [men] because they were threatening me before that [saying], ‘We will get out of the jail and then you will see the consequences.”

Atefa Sharif said one of the first things she wants to do with her big sister is take her to the mall.

“I’m dying to shop with her,” she said, simultaneously laughing and crying.

 Atefa Sharifi (left) and her sister, Latifa Sharifi, were reunited at DFW International Airport after Latifa and her family spent more than a year in hiding. Latifa worked as a human rights lawyer in Afghanistan.
Stella M. Chávez
/
KERA News
Atefa Sharifi (left) and her sister, Latifa Sharifi, were reunited at DFW International Airport after Latifa and her family spent more than a year in hiding. Latifa worked as a human rights lawyer in Afghanistan.

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Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Stella Chávez is KERA’s education reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35. The award-winning entry was  “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-part DMN series she co-wrote that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a small Oaxacan village to Dallas. For the last two years, she worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she was part of the agency’s outreach efforts on the Affordable Care Act and ran the regional office’s social media efforts.