Roin Khurami had never been hugged by a female who wasn’t related to him.
And yet here she was — a woman he’d just met — embracing him at the BrownsvilleSouthPadre IslandInternationalAirport. She was there to pick up Khurami for a friend, South Padre Island resident Will Everett, who had secured a visa for the Afghanistan native to come to the United States to pursue asylum.
Khurami, 20, arrived in Brownsville 13 months ago after being forced to flee the country for his safety. Everett, who spent five years as an aid worker in Afghanistan, had befriended and employed Khurami, who comes from a poor family and used the money to attend the AmericanUniversity of Afghanistan and learn English.
But in associating with a foreigner and attending an American school, he was violating strict social taboos. Khurami was ostracized by his friends and even some family members who accused him of rejecting Islam.
Ignoring warnings to keep away from the Americans, he was ambushed and badly beaten. Khurami’s brother accused him of bringing down trouble on the family and said he’d likely be killed. His mother and father feared for his safety but lacked the money to get him to safe haven in Europe.
“They said we can sell the house and you can go to save your life,” Khurami said.
Everett, back in the United States, succeeded in securing a visa fairly quickly. Now Khurami is an Island resident in limbo, worried about his parents and sisters and doing what he can to stay occupied until his asylum hearing, which might not happen for another year.
In Afghanistan, a place with few career options, Khurami hoped to become a journalist. Here in the United States, however, the sheer number of potential career paths is mind-boggling, he admitted. Khurami now wants to become a doctor or a dentist.
For now, since he can’t legally attend college for credit or get a job, he keeps busy by volunteering for Sea Turtle Inc., the SPIBirdingCenter and Whiskers resale store, and by helping Everett build Adirondack furniture in his garage.
Despite feeling much safer in the United States, Khurami said he still has bad dreams most nights and can’t fully shake a sense of looming danger.
“If I wanted to walk at night by myself up the street, I have the feeling that someone will attack me,” he said.

By STEVE CLARK | Staff Writer