Refugee Resettlement Companies Brace For Inflow Of Afghan Evacuees : NPR

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Refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Friday after being evacuated from Kabul after the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images Hide caption

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Friday after being evacuated from Kabul after the Taliban took over Afghanistan.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the American armed forces during the two decades of war are now arriving as refugees in the United States after having been a harrowing escape for many from a Taliban-controlled country that is erupting in increasing violence.

Most begin the new American chapter of their lives in military facilities scattered across the United States, where they are scrutinized before setting off on more permanent destinations. This includes Texas, which has become one of several hubs for refugees who have been granted special immigrant visas to work with the US in Afghanistan.

The sudden influx means relocation agencies across Texas and elsewhere are rushing to secure housing, school, groceries and furniture for the newcomers.

Marisol Girela is the vice president of social programs at RAICES, an organization that helps refugees with relocation in San Antonio, Texas.

“We have seen a very dramatic increase in the crowd since the crisis began in July and now in August,” Girela told NPR.

She said RAICES has relocated six families so far this week. “That’s around 20 people,” estimates Girela, adding that by the end of August the agency will have helped 60 people transition into their new lives. July was the same, she said.

“We see some singles, usually men, who come here through the SIV program, but for the most part we help families,” Girela said.

It was a tough job for the organization, which is the smaller of two resettlement agencies in San Antonio. Since 2017, when the USA first launched the “Special Immigration Visas for Afghans” program, RAICES has helped around 600 people.

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Refugees are on a tight budget from the moment they step off the plane

Much of the work begins even before they even enter the San Antonio airport. With funds from the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and donations, Girela and her colleagues take care of all the logistical details of the move. They find suitable accommodation, set up utilities, organize furniture and arrange for plates in cupboards and cutlery in drawers. “You have been through so much – through so much trauma. These are things you shouldn’t think about. “

Afghan Abdul Aman Sediqi, a US special immigrant visa recipient, is holding his son Edris as he and his family prepare to sign a lease on a new apartment on Thursday. Callaghan O’Hare / Reuters hide caption

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Callaghan O’Hare / Reuters

Afghan Abdul Aman Sediqi, a US special immigrant visa recipient, is holding his son Edris as he and his family prepare to sign a lease on a new apartment on Thursday.

Callaghan O’Hare / Reuters

Almost all of these expenses come from a one-time grant refugees receive on arrival. The USCRI allocates $ 1,200 per person – adults and children receive the same amount – to be used within 90 days.

“We also use some of that money to buy grocery cards and provide families with some cash for extra expenses,” said Girela. “Donations really make a difference here. The more we get from people – a free sofa or canned food – the more of their own money they can keep. “

RAICES also takes care of all of the paperwork required to register families for social services like SNAP, better known as grocery stamps, and Medicaid. They also enroll children in local schools.

“We have a very tight time shortage to build families,” so they can support themselves as quickly as possible, she said.

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Job search and self-employment have priority

RAICES provides training on professional skills and helps with job hunting. “We have very high success rates at work,” says Girela, although she finds that most people find “entry level jobs” at local food processing or packaging plants in San Antonio.

“Many of the people we help actually have degrees and are fairly well educated so they take these jobs temporarily,” while RAICES helps them navigate recertification or other educational programs.

Eligible adults can also receive monthly refugee allowance. The amounts vary based on household size, but a single adult gets around $ 415 a month for the first four months and then drops to a little less than $ 200 a month. The amount also decreases depending on the income earned.

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There is also the cultural adaptation component

It seems like an obvious thing, Girela noted, but “everything is incredibly different here.” Almost immediately, she and her team begin a cultural orientation process that includes lessons about US currency, how and where to transfer a monthly rental payment, how to buy a money order, or how to set up a checking account.

“The great thing is that we have a pretty large Afghan community here in San Antonio, so our customers have an integrated support system to turn to,” said Girela. Strange or embarrassing questions can be answered by members of their own community who have made a similar transition themselves, according to Girela.

In a way, says Girela, the “go, go, go” pace of the first few weeks can deter newcomers from processing their feelings about moving halfway around the world. But once routines are established and the initial shock subsides, signs of the psychological and emotional toll begin to show.

“Maybe the honeymoon period is over somehow,” she said. “But then we start to see if trauma might have occurred.”

It is possible that the evacuees who made it on those final flights out of Kabul before August 31 could have a very different experience, Girela said. “But we will be there for you,” she added.