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An Afghan refugee who drove for Uber was killed in San Francisco — his family is seeking answers

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The family of Ahmad Fawad Yusufi says Uber locked his account and declined to help them

The family of a slain Uber driver wants the company to help them
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Ahmad Fawad Yusufi, a refugee from Afghanistan and father of three, was shot and killed last month in San Francisco during what police said was a botched robbery attempt. His family says Yusufi, a former interpreter with the US Army who lived in Sacramento, was in San Francisco to drive for Uber, a job which was their sole source of income.

The ride-hailing company has said Yusufi appeared to be “offline” at the time of the shooting, meaning he was not on duty, but his brother Ilyas says Yusufi worked all night Sunday driving for Uber, which was his reason for being in San Francisco at the time of the shooting early on a Monday morning. He’s written a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, chief legal officer Tony West, and senior VP for marketing and public affairs Jill Hazelbaker, demanding $4 million in aid for Yusufi’s family — which he says the company has an “ethical obligation” to provide — and access to Yusufi’s disabled Uber account. Ilyas believes the account may provide more information about the circumstances surrounding his brother’s death.

In an interview with The Verge, Ilyas said it feels like Uber doesn’t care about what happened to his brother. “He worked for them, but they don’t want to help us,” he said, adding that Yusufi’s wife doesn’t speak English and is unable to work, so the family is in danger of losing their home. “Right now, we don’t know what to do. But when his kids ask me what I did for their father, I have to tell them I tried. I need to try to make a good life for them.”

In his letter, Ilyas points to Khosrowshahi’s September blog post, where he wrote about being an Iranian refugee as a child and pledged that Uber would support Afghan refugees. The CEO announced Uber had added an in-app donation button that sends funds to refugee resettlement programs of the International Rescue Committee and added Pashto and Dari language support to its Uber Driver app. “We want to make it even easier for Afghan refugees to access economic opportunities, if and when they are ready to do so,” Khosrowshahi wrote.

But Ilyas said he and hundreds of other Afghan drivers often sleep in their cars while driving for Uber. “And now, after all the work we did for your company, you are turning your backs on us in our time of need,” he writes.

In reply to a request for comment from The Verge, Uber spokesperson Austen Radcliff said in an email that the company was “saddened by this senseless act of violence that took Mr. Yusufi’s life. Our hearts go out to his family during this difficult time.” Radcliff added that Yusufi was not online or on a trip at the time of the incident, that his last trip was the previous night. Uber has been in touch with the family to offer its condolences, Radcliff said, and is working to provide them access to the account. She pointed to an article from the San Francisco Chronicle in which police said Yusufi was with a friend near a park at the time of the incident.

Uber has a history of trying to defer responsibility for incidents with its drivers — who are not considered employees of the company but independent contractors — if the drivers weren’t actively working at the time.

Perhaps the best-known test of this position is a 2013 incident where a driver who said he was working for Uber in San Francisco struck a family in a crosswalk, killing six-year-old Sofia Liu. The company maintained, however, that while the driver was an Uber “partner,” he was not “providing services on the Uber system during the time of the incident.” A lawyer for Liu’s family said the driver was logged in to Uber’s app at the time seeking fares, even though he didn’t have a passenger in the car when he struck Liu. The company eventually settled with the family out of court, and the incident prompted a new state law requiring ride-hail drivers and companies to have liability insurance coverage whenever they’re using a ride-hailing app.

And Yusufi is not the first Uber driver to be killed while on the job; two recent incidents include Javier Ramos, who was shot and killed during an attempted carjacking in Chicago in March, and Timothy Perkins, who was beaten and stabbed to death In Detroit in January.

Driving for the company’s Uber Eats delivery platform can be hazardous as well; Pakistani immigrant Mohammad Anwar was killed after an attempted carjacking in Washington, DC, in March. Two teenagers pleaded guilty to murder charges.

Cherri Murphy, an organizer with Gig Workers Rising, a Bay Area organization supporting Yusufi’s family, said Uber drivers sleeping in their cars was not uncommon in the area and criticized the company, which she said “washed their hands” of him and his family. “That’s simply unacceptable. We stand in strong solidarity with Ahmad’s family and for workers everywhere who are endangered or killed on the job.”

Ilyas, who also drives for Uber, says he and his brother came to the US in 2017 and usually made the trip from Sacramento to San Francisco every weekend to earn money on the ride-hailing platform. Included in his letter to the Uber executives is a demand that the platform pay its drivers better.

“When my brother and I drove to San Francisco every weekend, we could never afford a hotel room after delivering your customers around the city all night,” Ilyas wrote. “We drop people like you off to your multi-million dollar homes every day. We deserve a safe, hospitable place to sleep at night afterwards.”