Thirty-one Afghan refugees who were held at a federal detention center for entering the United States illegally after they fled their Soviet-occupied country were freed Friday, to a joyful reunion with friends and relatives.
Release of the 29 men and two women was granted Thursday after immigration officials met with Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.), Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) and attorneys for the refugees.
The 31 are seeking asylum as political refugees. They were freed on parole, pending decisions on their petitions for asylum.
"We're all very excited today about this breakthrough in a case that has stubbornly remained unsolved for 1 1/2 years," Ackerman said.
"I look forward now to moving ahead quickly and in good faith to secure permanent freedom for these courageous men and women," he said.
Release Terms Explained
The Afghans left the detention camp Friday after a meeting with Ackerman and D'Amato, who explained to the group the conditions under which the Immigration and Naturalization Service agreed to their release.
Some waved small American flags as they left the detention center. Some of the men wore the turbans and scarfs that are traditional dress in Afghanistan.
"The Soviets take my country. They killed my father and brother. They wanted to kill me," said Mohammed Ida, 22. "So I come here, because the United States is kind to people."
Friends and relatives embraced the refugees, most of whom are young men in their late teens or early 20s, in an emotional welcome.
The Afghan Community in America, an Afghan relief organization based in the New York borough of Queens, said it would assist those who needed help, but Habib Mayer, the head of the group, said that all of the refugees had friends and relatives who would take care of them.
Held as Illegal Aliens
The INS detained the Afghans because they entered the country illegally, some by use of fake passports or bribes. Some of the refugees had been held for as long as 18 months.