One year later: Afghan evacuees recall fleeing war-torn homeland, reflect on living in Philadelphia

One-year after arriving in Philadelphia from war-torn Afghanistan, evacuees gathered at Philadelphia's City Hall on Monday to thank officials and share their stories. 

Saleh Samit recalled arriving at Philadelphia International Airport after leaving behind his native Afghanistan as part of the Kabul airlift. He was among 2,500 evacuees that came through Philadelphia during rescue mission, 800 of them have remained living in the area. 

Samit said just a few months after arriving in the United States he got a full-time job and is proudly paying taxes. 

"We left everything behind, we just came with our clothes," Samit said. "I have a good income and salary, and I am happy I pay taxes to the state government and federal government."


Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney helped mark the anniversary at City Hall on Monday, proudly reflecting on a moment in Philadelphia's history when the city opened its arms to those in need.

"It was a moment where I consider Philadelphia Ellis Island," Kenney said. "It was like this mass of people coming off with nowhere to go, and they came to us and that was wonderful."

Many came to the city and areas surrounding it - like Joint Base McGuire Fort Dix - with nothing to their names but what little they brought with them. Local groups like Bethany Christian Services stepped in to help find housing and teach English. 

"We identified safe and affordable housing, we assisted families in English, getting connected to employment opportunities and medical appointments," said Dannielle Bosser from Bethany Christian Services. 

Shabnam, another Afghan evacuee, was a teacher in her native country and fled to American not knowing how to speak English. Now she not only knows English, but she's translating for other woman while working part-time at a Philadelphia Chipolte restaurant. 

The city says it plans to continue the model of the "Operation Allies Welcome" program with Ukraine evacuees in the coming months.