Michigan State University Researchers Recall Harrowing Effort to Evacuate 77 Afghan Scholars

Sara Qaderi, who was studying at Kabul University in collaboration with MSU’s Grain Research and Innovation project, says as the group tried to escape Afghanistan, they were exposed to tear gas and a suicide bomb.

Photo of a Michigan State University sign

Michigan State University had dozens of people in Afghanistan affiliated with the university when the country fell to the Taliban this summer. According to Bridge Michigan, its effort to get 77 of them out of the country is likely the largest of any university that ran programs in the country. 

“I’m very proud of the work that we did at Michigan State to get these people out.” –Kurt Richter, Michigan State University 

Two Michigan State University employees — one who oversaw efforts to evacuate scholars in East Lansing, and another who was among the 77 evacuees in Afghanistan — share their experiences.

Listen: Michigan State University’s evacuation of Afghan scholars.


Kurt Richter is program director of Michigan State University’s Grain Research and Innovation project (GRAIN). He says the university had many researchers operating in Afghanistan to help multiply the country’s wheat agriculture prior to Taliban invasion.

“When we heard the situation deteriorating in Afghanistan, we became very concerned very quickly. Our assumption was that our scholars … would be at risk simply because of their affiliation with our project.” Richter said the program was targeted because it was funded by the United States’ federal government and took pride in educating women. “Our work in Afghanistan has stopped. Our offices have been closed and we are in the process of, the staff that remains, we’re trying to provide … support from afar.” 

Richter says the university was working as hard as it possibly could to bring its Afghan scholars to safety. “I’m very proud of the work that we did at Michigan State to get these people out.” 

Sara Qaderi was studying at Kabul University in collaboration with the MSU GRAIN program before Taliban forces seized control in Afghanistan. She was one of the 77 MSU affiliated evacuees who made it out of the country. “There were more than 2,000 people who were trying to enter the airport and get close to the gates,” she says.

Qaderi recalled being exposed to tear gas and a suicide bomb as the MSU group was attempting to escape. “There was no food and no water,” she says. “It was a very scary feeling.”

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