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ST. LOUIS – An Afghan family who was stranded in Albania for months as war refugees arrived in St. Louis Monday for a new beginning.

The Azimi family said when they landed at St. Louis Lambert International airport they received a warm welcome.

“He says he’s very thankful and grateful for you guys for being here,” said the interpreter for Mr. Azimi. “He doesn’t feel like he deserves this warm welcome, and thank you to everybody who has worked hard to make this possible.”

Mr. Azimi spoke through an interpreter. He, his wife, and two sons left Afghanistan under unsafe conditions after Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021. The Azimi family’s first names were not released for security reasons. The Azimi has family in Afghanistan who is trying to get out.

“He said I don’t know anybody in St. Louis besides a couple of folks, said the interpreter for Mr. Azimi. “What he heard from the internet and what he has seen is that St. Louis has a welcoming culture for the refugees, and he wants to be a part of it.”

Mr. Azimi was a Colonel in the Afghan Army and he worked closely with the American military in Afghanistan. He said Jason Kander who was the former Missouri Secretary of State and also served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan saved his life.

“Mr. Azimi was a distinguished Colonel in the Afghan National Army,” said Kander. “He worked directly with U.S. service members including a member of the United States Air Force who help colonel Azimi create secret means of communication that saved American and Afghan lives.”

Prior to Azimi’s arrival, community leaders held a news conference to assure them and others that St. Louis is a community with open arms and open hearts to refugees.

“As Bosnian refugees did before them in the 1990s Afghan families are making our city and our entire region a stronger and more vibrant place, said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones. “Let’s keep that spirit going.”

Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush spoke said refugees have St. Louis’s “full support.”

“We want to insure that they and all people seeking refuge in St. Louis have the full support,” said Bush. “We support you and we need you to have everything that you need to thrive as you begin this new chapter.”

By 2021, the International Institute of St. Louis welcomed 724 Afghans to St. Louis. The institute said they plan to resettle about 1,000 more refugees in the region.