‘You Can Sense the Relief': Flight Crews Help Bring Afghan Refugees to US

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We've all seen the images out of Afghanistan as so many flee the country, hoping to find better lives. But some flight crews aren’t just watching — they're flying to other parts of the world to recover refugees and bring them to the United States.

While at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, a United Airlines flight crew talked about their experiences.

"You can tell that they’re overwhelmed," said Hope Williams, a United flight attendant who’s been part of the effort to find these refugees and bring them to Dulles safely.

Williams is among those who greet and comfort Afghan refugees as they finally make it on a flight out. She said her first name, Hope, has taken on a new meaning.

"When they first get on, you can sense the relief of, 'I've made it'," Williams said.

Williams has made connections with all types of refugees – some boarding without shoes, many sunburned because they’ve been forced to wait outside in the sweltering heat, with just a piece of cardboard to protect themselves.

"There’s no cots or beds," Williams said. "That was your protection and your comfortability for the day."

When they get to these planes, refugees aren’t just finding a flight out. The planes are stocked with necessities by crew members like Roberto Fuentes.

"They don’t even have shoes," Fuentes said. "These people don’t have anything so we've got to provide all the basic stuff for them."

Planes are loaded with items such as slippers, pajamas, diapers and teddy bears.

"You'd be surprised," Fuentes said. "Some kids, I was told that they had never seen a teddy bear before. So for them, they were kinda scared. But for the ones that have seen it before – it’s obviously something that makes them feel good.”

Many of the Afghan children are being given coloring books and are decorating some of these flights with those colored pages.

As for Williams, she’ll be making another trip next week. She said her life has been changed by people she has met.

"I started crying. And two of the women passengers that I assisted earlier with the sunburn asked me, was I was OK," Williams said. "And to go from danger, seen and unseen, to worrying about a flight attendant, if she’s OK. That speaks a lot about their people.”

So many are leaving their world behind, as these flights bring them to a new, more hopeful reality.

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