Behind AIG’s program to help Afghans find refuge in the U.S.
The people who power AIG’s capabilities and resources are willing and ready to help.
During a week in mid-August, AIG senior risk analyst Behrooz Paydar* worked around the clock checking emails and juggling phone calls across multiple time zones. As the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on August 15, Behrooz was in New Jersey coordinating with other AIG colleagues to help the Dawari family finalize U.S. Visas and arrive safely to America.
The harrowing effort fell a step outside the scope of Behrooz’s daily responsibilities, where he supports risk governance for AIG’s Enterprise Risk Management team. On top of his usual job, he volunteered with AIG’s Pro Bono Program, helping families like the Dawaris* flee Afghanistan.
As chaos ensued at the Kabul International Airport, Behrooz knew there was not a moment to spare:
“For me, this felt personal, and I wanted to help,” says Behrooz, who moved to the U.S. from Iran to study science before joining AIG.
Fluent in Dari, Behrooz acted as a translator – relaying messages to the Dawaris from AIG’s legal, travel and security experts as the family made their way to the Kabul airport.
“I was trying to be there for them emotionally and help them stay calm and think clearly,” Behrooz recalls.
A story about immigrants and giving back
The events that were about to unfold – including AIG’s role in helping the Dawaris escape the Taliban – might come as a surprise to many. AIG is long known as a global insurance organization, having member companies that manage and insure against risks. However, what powers the organization’s vast network of resources and capabilities are its people – many of whom are willing and ready to help the range of communities they serve.
The Dawari family reunification effort is one of several cases AIG has continued to support. More broadly, it’s part of a partnership between AIG’s Pro Bono Program and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP).
Since 2012, AIG and IRAP have worked together on 53 cases that include assisting 124 individuals. More than half of the cases involve Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), which allow allies in Iraq and Afghanistan – who are threatened by anti-U.S. forces due to their collaboration with the U.S. government – safely resettle to America.
Behrooz began volunteering for IRAP a few years after he joined AIG. Following 2017’s travel restrictions to the U.S. for citizens of certain nations, Behrooz thought about his parents still living in his homeland and the life he created with his family in the U.S. and wanted to give back.
“When you want to help and you reach the goal, if feels very sweet.”
In the case of the Dawaris, AIG had been advising the family since 2017, working closely with IRAP to help Fahima Dawari, her husband, and their three children secure SIVs. After continual delays, the family received clearance and settled in the U.S.
But Fahima’s three stepchildren, vulnerable to the Taliban’s threats, were unable to join the family. AIG continued working with IRAP through 2021 to reunite the family.
Caroline Daniel, Assistant General Counsel at AIG, was part of the team that initially helped the Dawaris in their 2017 case. Caroline wanted to help again. Leading AIG’s Pro Bono response, she worked closely with a team of lawyers and IRAP to secure SIVs for the stepchildren as derivative applicants.
As Caroline helped finalize the applications, heavily armed Taliban fighters swept into Afghanistan’s capital.
“It started to look like they just needed to get out,” Caroline recalls.
The long and dangerous journey home
As the risks rose, AIG quickly called on its range of people and resources to help the family flee Afghanistan. The team worked with IRAP to develop a plan to evacuate the Dawaris as they struggled to get inside the crowded airport.
Brittany Lewis and Xavier Oberti, AIG Travel’s Security Operations and Intelligence Supervisors, homed in on their years of experience helping AIG clients evacuate crisis situations. With the Dawaris, they called on consultants and other sources on the ground in Kabul to help guide them to safety.
“It was a very complicated situation all around – one of the biggest challenges was getting the family into the airport,” says Brittany, whose team of security intelligence specialists studied the building for the best routes to get through the gates.
The AIG team traded shifts to monitor the airport as events unfolded. Going on little, if any, sleep like the rest of the team, Behrooz stayed in touch with the Dawaris day and night. As the crescendo of gun shots rang and violence erupted, the family ultimately made their way into the airport. They boarded a U.S. military evacuation flight headed to Qatar, where they were processed and stayed in a base camp for two weeks before flying to the U.S.
“My cell phone went silent – at that point, I knew they were on the plane,” Behrooz remembers.
“They were safe, and I felt like I was finally able to breath. I was happy.”
* Names have been changed to protect the parties’ identities.