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North Carolina Prepares For Afghan Refugees

Afghan Refugees Religious Response
Gemunu Amarasinghe
In this Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal to board a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va. U.S. religious groups of many faiths are gearing up to assist the thousands of incoming refugees.

In their last two weeks in the country, U.S. troops evacuated more than 123,000 people out of Afghanistan.

That figure includes Afghans and Americans, but mostly Afghans. The process has been called “two weeks of chaos and 20 years of war.”

There’s no other way to put it.

The last big influx of Afghan refugees to America was after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They came with special government visas and settled in places from California to Georgia.

Today, there’s a good chance some of the new Afghan refugees will end up right here, calling North Carolina home. Cities like Durham are ready and willing.

“Let me be clear. In Durham, we will take them in. We will resettle them here. We will support them in every way we can. We will embrace them and we will love them," Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said at a recent press conference outside City Hall.

Schewel was joined by other elected officials, refugee resettlement agents, and by Omid Ahmadzai, who came to Durham from Afghanistan in 2015.

“The [Afghan] translator was like a light for the U.S. Army," Ahmadzai said. "If you don’t have light you cannot go in the dark, you cannot find anything. I want, once again, for our President Biden to not break his promise to help those people that worked in a hard situation, shoulder to shoulder, with the U.S. Army.”

It’s not going to be easy, resettling and helping the people who worked “shoulder to shoulder” with the United States government during America’s longest war. And with that comes trauma, struggle and strife.

“I know that leaving your home for the unknown is a terrifying leap of faith," said Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam.

"Our beloved prophet Muhammad — sallallahu alayhi wa-sallam — himself was a refugee, having fled Mecca in order to escape persecution," Allam said. "Through his strength and resilience, we are all here today. And through your strength and resilience, your families will continue to grow in your new home of Durham."

Shane Ellison is the supervising attorney at Duke Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. He helps students in the representation of non-U.S. citizens and community organizations, especially in times like these.

"This crisis precipitated by the rapid advance of the Taliban, is really creating a greater level of urgency to address the needs of Afghan refugees than what I at least observed in the past," Ellison said.

Of the estimated 123,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan, about 6,000 are U.S. citizens.

"Resettlement agencies of course are stepping up considerably to provide aid to those that are entering as refugees or as SIVs (Special Immigrant Visas), but there are a lot of people who are coming in under humanitarian parole," Ellison said. "And at least under current law individuals under humanitarian parole aren’t eligible for the same package of benefits, assistance, and services the resettling agencies offer to refugees and SIV holders."

But Ellison says resettlement agencies were hit hard during the Trump Administration, when the number of refugees the U.S. accepted dipped dramatically. These non-profits often get federal funding based on how many refugees they can process.

"A number of organizations had to cut back staff, had to close down programs, and some resettlement organizations closed shop altogether," Ellison said. "So this surge in need comes at a time when the refugee resettlement apparatus... is definitely diminished in its capacity to be able to deal with this need."

North Carolina has already begun to welcome Afghan families recently evacuated. World Relief Durham says that could rise to 100 or more refugees in the coming months.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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