MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday the 17th of August, 2023.
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.
First up: Afghani refugees searching for home.
It’s been two years since the fall of Afghanistan. Resettlement agencies have been able to connect refugees with jobs and places to live, but the federal government has yet to resolve a critical problem. Many Afghans were unable to apply for permanent residency by the normal route. So they’re stuck in legal limbo.
REICHARD: Back in July, Senator Amy Klobuchar proposed amending the National Defense Authorization Act. It includes a provision to create a special pathway for Afghans to apply for a green card.
Kansas Senator Jerry Moran explained why the timing of this vote matters.
MORAN: We approached the second anniversary of this disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Many of those Afghans who escape to the US now face continue to face uncertainty in their lives. Uncertainty as their original parole status is set to expire soon.
REICHARD: So what is life like for these refugees, two years since coming to the States?
World Journalism Institute Spanish course graduates David Medina and Karla Bean met with Afghans in Asheville, North Carolina, and they collaborated to bring us this story.
SOUND: [CALL TO PRAYER]
KARLA BEAN, REPORTER: That is the call to Friday Prayers at the Islamic Center of Asheville, North Carolina. A Muslim gentleman wearing a perahan tunban, the traditional Afghan outfit, arrives at the gathering. While others mingle, he joins a small group of men at the back of the room who are dressed like him. For security reasons, we’ll call this gentleman Sajid. He arrived in Asheville with his wife and two daughters to resettle after the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021.
Two years ago, on August 15, the world watched as thousands tried to escape Afghanistan after the Taliban had captured the capital city, Kabul. Since then, nearly 80,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in America through Operation Allies Welcome. All of them with few possessions and vast needs. Aid worker Hanna DeMarcus has seen that up close.
HANNAH: So finding initial housing, coordinating with Department of Social Services for food stamps and Medicaid, assisted with medical referrals, school enrollments, first job, really everything you can think of that's required to move to a new city and new country.
DeMarcus leads the Lutheran Services New Americans Program in Asheville, one of two agencies serving refugees in the area. Multiple volunteer groups around the city provided help with furnishings, clothing, transportation, and grocery shopping. Meanwhile, the agency staff worked on housing, schooling and employment opportunities. But the process hasn’t been easy, or fast. At the beginning, many refugees had to stay in hotels until the agency found landlords willing to offer affordable rents. And DeMarcus explains that it took time to find employers willing to work around the language barrier, but they were able to line up dozens of jobs in manufacturing and hospitality. And now, one and a half years after Afghans started arriving in Asheville, DeMarcus believes the community has hit an important milestone.
HANNAH: I'm happy to say that all of our Afghan clients found long term housing. At least one member of the household found full-time employment.
BEAN: However, despite getting all of the refugees’ basic needs covered, something odd has been happening. Afghans have been leaving Asheville.
Sajid, the man from the mosque, thinks he knows why.
SAJID (English Translation): Many Afghans want their children to grow up in their Afghan culture. That is what I and other Afghans here want for our children. That they will grow in a community with other Afghans because we don't want them to forget our culture.
Sajid said that out of the almost 100 Afghans who arrived in January 2022, only 30 or 40 remain. He wants to give his children an opportunity to grow up in a similar environment to what he had growing up…and that may require a move.
SAJID (English Translation): I have not made a decision yet. I have to make a decision because there are not many Afghans here and that makes a difference to us; to be in our own culture.
BEAN: Some Afghans have begun a second migration to big cities in states like California and Texas. The perception is that they will find a piece of home among larger communities of Afghans. But those who actually live in big cities have found that refugees are experiencing the same kind of culture shock.
Daniel Alcalá leads a Christian charity in San Antonio, and he’s seen this firsthand.
DANIEL: It is just an entirely different world that they have to absorb. This is a new country with new customs. No one knows about you. No one knows you on the local news, in your neighborhood, in the schools, in the business world. You're all alone.
Alcalá is the founder of Grace Refugee Center for Afghans. The organization serves one of the country’s largest groups of Afghan refugees. Two years ago, Alcalá moved to the apartment complex where most refugees live. He soon discovered that a big challenge for Afghans is the disparity between how they lived before and the kind of life they have now.
DANIEL: Because of their affiliation with the U.S. military, they had good income and so they had mansions. They had a future for their children. And all that was stripped. And you come here and you're placed in a dilapidated rundown apartment, that's cockroach infested the landlords take advantage of you. It's cold in the winter, it's hot in the summer. You don't have a lot of money. You have to constantly reuse your clothes. You have to live off food stamps. You have to depend on the local schools where your children at for even clothes. In the Afghan community where I live, many of the Afghan refugees are so poor that they share clothes.
Alcalá does his best to address these daily challenges, but as hard as it has been, these circumstances may have a silver lining. Christians now have an opportunity to serve Afghans in a way that didn’t exist before the fall of Kabul.
DANIEL: So when a Christian comes knocking on their door and wants to eat with them, know their names, know their history, know their tribal ancestry, wants to learn their language, wants to spend time with their kids, play with their kids, teach their kids English. That is such an impact in their lives.
And so you have a Christian that is showing the unconditional charitable love of Jesus Christ and that melts their heart of stone, that pierces through the layers of the solidification of Islam that begins to question. I have not seen this in Islam.
Resettlement agencies around the country still have a massive task ahead. There are unsolved problems with housing, employment, schooling, health, and general assimilation to society. But there is also a great opportunity for the church in America to reach out to its new Afghan neighbors.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Karla Bean in Asheville, North Carolina.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.