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Documentary filmmaker in Utah working to help Afghans

Dodge Billingsley, a filmmaker and humanitarian, is working with a network of people to help Afghans escape the country. (Jeffrey Dahdah, KSL-TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — The United States military evacuated more than 100,000 Afghans during the recent withdrawal.

Afghanistan's borders are now closed, which means many vulnerable Afghans can't get out. But a network of Utahns are trying to help.

"There are a lot of people at risk, what the administration calls 'vulnerable Afghans' — those who worked side-by-side with us," said filmmaker and humanitarian Dodge Billingsley. "A lot of the Afghan army, special forces, intelligence community."

Billingsley has connections in Afghanistan after years of working as a journalist and defense analyst. He's spent the last month trying to come up with plans to get some Afghans out of the country.

So far, he and his network have helped a handful of people escape to bordering countries, but there are dozens more asking for his help.

"There are thousands of people, civilians, retired military, retired State Department, and some still active in those roles, helping to get people out," said Billingsley. "Afghanistan is a really tricky country to get out of. A lot of people are trying different things, but the primary way is to charter these aircraft."

About 1,300 Afghan refugees are expected to come to Utah in the next few weeks.

Billingsley expects it will be a difficult transition for refugees as they try to assimilate to new roles.

While some people think of Afghanistan as a difficult place to live, Billingsley said, "That was their home. People had good lives in Afghanistan. To just dismiss that and say, 'You are so lucky to be here,' that's not what they need to hear and it won't resonate with them at all."

He said the fallout from Afghanistan will have more meaning to Utahns as refugees move in, but it will take years to get a historical and psychological grasp on the exodus from Afghanistan.

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