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Afghan Soldiers Seeking Asylum in U.S. Fear Taliban Reprisal at Home

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The three Afghan soldiers who ditched a U.S. Army training camp in Massachusetts to seek asylum in Canada used a shopping trip to Wal-Mart as an opportunity to break for the border — running up more than $1,600 in cab fare on the 500-mile journey. The men were on a break from their weeklong exercise at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod — shopping while other soldiers went to the beach — when they put their plan into action last month.

The three runaway soldiers — who face a preliminary hearing Wednesday in immigration court in New York — detailed their failed Sept. 22 getaway in an interview with The Boston Globe. They said they are desperate to remain here because of threats of Taliban reprisal. “For me is not important, Canada or America. I need just asylum,” Maj. Jan Arash, 48, told The Globe from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail.

Capt. Noorullah Aminyar, 30, said the Taliban went to his family in Afghanistan and warned his father that they would target him upon his return. “They will find you and they will kill you,” Aminyar said his father told him over the phone.

It was another soldier, Capt. Mohammad Nasir Askarzada, 28, who first showed Aminyar a YouTube video of people crossing a border checkpoint into Canada. That was the route they would take. But while Askarzada and Aminyar decided to use the Walmart shopping trip to execute their escape, Arash’s decision to join them was last-minute. He had been following them — but when they confessed to their plan, Arash said he wanted in.

The men said they were focused on getting to Niagara Falls, and denied reports claiming they had stopped at a strip club on the way. Once at the famed tourist destination, they found the pedestrian entrance into Canada known as the Rainbow Bridge. But while requesting asylum, Canadian authorities sent them back into the United States, where military was on their trail.

The men have each been charged with immigration violations. Attorney Matthew Borowski, who is representing the men pro bono, said they are now trying to gain asylum in the U.S. and fight deportation back to Afghanistan. Borowski told NBC News that he will ask the judge to grant that asylum — or at least allow the trio to stay in the U.S. on a withholding of removal, which prevents people from being deported if they fear persecution in their home countries.

“They did abandon their posts, but they went straight to the border to seek asylum,” Borowski added. “They were never a threat to anyone here.”

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