Minnesota couple trying to help former foreign exchange student escape Afghanistan

While the focus in Afghanistan over the last two weeks has been placed on evacuating citizens and allies, thousands more are still trying to get out. Those with ties to the United States are now fearing the worst.

A Coon Rapids couple is desperately trying to help their former foreign exchange student escape.

Every day Betsy and Thomas Kiekhafer are logging on to their computer, hoping that the person on the other end continues to respond.

"He’s trying to stay optimistic but it’s hard you know," said Betsy Kiekhafer.

For his safety FOX 9 isn’t showing his face or naming him. In 2010, the man lived with the Kiekhafers as a foreign exchange student, graduating high school in Minnesota and going back to Afghanistan to attend the American university. 

He returned to the U.S. following graduation to received his Master of Business Administration before returning to Afghanistan recently to be with family.

He believes his association with the U.S. makes him a target. He told Betsy in Facebook messages that his attempts to present his paperwork at the Kabul airport have been unsuccessful.

"He said, ‘If they ask if I tried to get into the airport, I spent one full night outside one gate and it was too crowded to get close,’" said Betsy Kiekhafer. 

The Kiekhafers reached out to several U.S. representatives for help, with Congressman Dean Phillips’ office providing assistance. Rep. Phillips’ office told FOX 9 that after they inquired, the young man was placed on the Priority 2 list for the refugee assistance program. 

His visa request is one of many. Phillips’ office alone has referred more than 1,650 names to the State Department in the last two weeks. The congressman said they have five caseworkers in his office assigned to these requests. They’re currently working on more than 60 cases involving more than 500 individuals. 

With the U.S. military leaving the country, they realize the time he has to get out may be running out.

"Well, I think it makes it more difficult, but I think there’s still hope," said Thomas Kiekhafer.

For now, they believe his plan is to lay low for a few months, waiting for news from the State Department.

"That’s probably what a lot of people are going to be doing, trying to avoid as much contact as possible and hope for the best," said Thomas Kiekhafer. "That’s about all we have right now is hope."