Afghan human rights attorney reaches safety in United States

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Latifa Sharifi
Latifa Sharifi and her family at the airport. (Photo credit: Dallas News)

In late October 2022, Latifa Sharifi and her three sons reached the safety of American soil after evading Taliban pursuit for more than a year. The acclaimed human rights attorney had been placed at the top of the Taliban’s kill list, following the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan in September 2021. For more than a year, she lived in a purgatory marked by narrow escapes by mere seconds and minutes, followed by seemingly endless stretches of anguish and uncertainty. When she finally walked through the arrivals gate and into the loving embrace of family at the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport, her back bowed and her emotions flowed. The bright lights of the terminal were a welcome end to a year spent hiding in the shadows and living in the dark. Her sons were her focus, her faith was her foundation, and an international team of relative strangers had been her lifeline.

George Mason University School of Business Dean’s Advisory Council Member, Marc Andersen, BA Economics ’90, was at the silent center of a faceless team of advocates. Andersen utilized an extensive network of global contacts to maneuver Latifa and her sons out of Afghanistan, through Europe, and eventually to the United States – a process that was equal parts chess in its strategy, double-Dutch in its timing, and Tetris in its alignment of team pieces at various points on a rapidly changing board. “This was a comprehensive team effort, from start to finish,” says Andersen. “A talented group of volunteers came together, each with only one goal in mind: to help Latifa and her family. In the end, we accomplished that goal. Her journey is over, her children are safe, and her life’s mission can resume.”

Marc E. Andersen, '90
Marc E. Andersen, '90 (Photo credit: Moshe Zusman)

Within hours of reclaiming power, in September 2021, the Taliban unleashed a brutal door-to-door campaign, aimed at killing, capturing, and silencing any opposition. Fourteen months later, Latifa’s advocacy on behalf of Afghan women and children is now more urgent than ever before. Her commitment as a human rights attorney earned her the highest honor in the international legal community – the UIA Lexis/Nexis Rule of Law Award.

The fight for freedom and justice is a family mission. Latifa’s father, Judge Abdul Hameed Sharifi, was a tireless advocate for girls’ education, and her sister, Atefa Sharifi, was also targeted by the Taliban for working for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy of Kabul Afghanistan in assistance of ambassadors. Several years ago, Atefa escaped danger and moved to the United States where she is now a citizen.

For Latifa, the path forward is marked by the road already traveled. On August 15, 2021, she was denied transportation at the Kabul airport during the fall of Afghanistan. In the mad scramble, one of her sons was nearly trampled to death and her entire family was in constant peril. When learning of these ongoing actions, Atefa and her husband Sharif desperately contacted anyone and everyone they could think of who may be able to aid her sister. Marc Andersen’s position as senior partner at Ernst & Young LLP (EY), and his experience within the government and intelligence communities, helped them connect with a team to smuggle Latifa and her sons to a safehouse in Europe. There, the team assisted with providing for her needs and supporting her humanitarian parole process, culminating in her approval and the eventual flight to the United States.

Though Latifa and her sons successfully escaped from the clutches of the Taliban, many of her loved ones, including her husband, remain in Afghanistan. “I’m worried about my husband. My kids keep asking about their father and I cannot say when he is coming,” says Latifa. “I’m always thinking about the women and children of Afghanistan and their future.”

Latifa Sharifi embrace
(Photo credit: Dallas News)

Refusing to give up the fight that has defined her life, Latifa’s mission on behalf of Afghanistan’s people continues. Her first days in the United States have been spent with throngs of reporters, speaking out against human rights violations in her native land. As she continues to place the needs of Afghanistan’s people over concerns for herself, she and her family see the evidence of human goodness in the team that helped extract her from almost certain death. Because of their selfless support, her own human rights activism can continue.

“We are grateful for the support of Mason Nation in this effort, especially related to the Go Fund Me,” says Andersen. “Their contributions made a monumental difference.” The Go Fund Me campaign continues and is focused on supporting resettlement efforts for Latifa and her boys in Texas.

A harrowing chapter has ended for Latifa Sharifi, but the story continues, and it is one she is eager to write.