Collective Effort: Resettling Afghan Refugees in Minnesota

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There are dozens of people statewide who are working together in weekly calls to create systems that welcome and support refugees from Afghanistan into Minnesota. Since last year, more than 2 million people have fled Afghanistan — which has suffered from decades of conflict, poverty, and food insecurity — and 83,000 are being placed in the U.S.

According to the International Rescue Committee, roughly 300,000 Afghans worked with U.S. military operations since our arrival in their country in 2001, making many of them eligible to obtain a U.S. visa. More than 3,000 Afghans remain in areas waiting for transport, and 35,000 remain on military bases awaiting a new country assignment.

According to Rachele King, State Refugee Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, just over 800 individuals are expected to arrive in Minnesota before February. More than half already are here, and roughly half of those have already moved from transitional housing into permanent homes.

Most of the refugees are currently in the Twin Cities, about 80 will be living in Rochester, and some are arriving to St. Cloud. King indicates that currently people are moved out of transitional Minnesota housing to permanent homes in an average of 17 days, “which is amazing.”

With 12,000 refugees still seeking a final destination in the U.S., Minnesota is working to increase its capacity. The national refugee resettlement community is reportedly impressed with the action Minnesota has mobilized already.

  • The Department of Education is creating a welcome packet for all families and is working to develop resources to help schools and teachers meet needs, including a wallet card of social support services. Nadia Siddiqui from Alight expressed in this week’s call a desire to emphasize providing a sense of belonging for each new Afghan student in each classroom. A suggestion made was to create regular contact between host teachers and school staff to connect around welcoming tips and resources. Most refugees are naturally feeling trauma, and English is not commonly spoken.
  • The Department of Health is doing medical intakes at the transitional housing to identify needs, vision screening, children’s dental care screening, and provide Covid vaccines. A local provider will offer trauma-informed care tips for secondary trauma experienced by those who are serving this community.
  • The Department of Human Services is processing healthcare applications, food access, and cash cards. Hennepin County has been commended for quick response to the emergency cash and food needs, using temporary state employees to help service the quick influx of people into the Twin Cities.
  • Advocates for Human Rights is working with people to understand more about their legal rights and immigration status.
  • On site staff and volunteers are working to create a brighter, roomier space for shopping for incoming families. The Table donated 500 backpacks filled with supplies for students. Specific sizes for winter coats are helping refugees feel welcomed. Salvation Army has volunteers who work several hours a week at the store.
  • Alight is hoping to help secure laptops and tablets for families to access virtual English classes, telehealth, resume building, job applications and school communication. The organization will be preparing 250 homes for families arriving in the coming weeks, says Nadia Siddiqui, “in partnership with the Afghan diaspora and Team Rubicon and with support from the State of Minnesota. The partners will be organizing volunteers to make it all happen and soliciting financial and in-kind donations to transform empty homes into human-worthy, family spaces starting in January.”
  • Minnesota hosts one of the few National Child Traumatic Stress Network hubs at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Saida Abdi has worked in refugee childhood trauma and resilience for 20 years, and previously did similar child trauma work in Boston. She trains and consults with organizations that develop and provide mental health services for refugee and immigrant children, and is an ongoing part of serving these new arrivals.
  • DEED and CareerForce are covering opportunities for new arrivals and job seekers looking for employment in Minnesota.

CURRENT NEEDS

(as of 12/10, to be updated regularly when we are able to assign our reporter to ongoing coverage)

  • More coordinated transportation services to get people to dental appointments
  • More capacity building with potential employers
  • Help with transportation challenges
  • Translation services to address language barriers
  • Resettlement agencies
  • Housing for three bedrooms and more, and affordable housing in Twin Cities willing to rent to newcomers seeking jobs
  • There are many new moms who need diapers, as well as strollers, baby swings, bouncy seats
  • Bridging has been providing household supplies, but is short on dishes and furniture
  • More clothes for ages 6 to 16
  • Sponsors to purchase specific items that cannot come from agencies, such as kitchen appliances like blenders, pressure cookers, microwaves, toaster ovens, or offering gift cards
  • Afghan Cultural Society is seeking funds to grow its team and eventually get paid for its volunteer work. 

Resources

BBC, August report of Afghan departures

BBC, history of Afghanistan conflict

National Child Traumatic Stress Network



Resettlement agencies who work directly with families as they move to permanent homes include Lutheran Social Services (LSS) and Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC), Arrive Ministries, International Institute of Minnesota (IIM), and Catholic Charities – Rochester.

LSS has been working with 120 arrivals since October 1, with five new families this week. They work on documentation papers, employment authorizations, social security cards, food assistance, and meeting basic household needs for move-ins. Karin Blythe, LSS program director of refugee services, reports that several landlords have been receptive at finding home units in good community areas where refugees are near each other. The goal is to try to find permanent housing within 30 days of arrival.

MCC is serving 138 people so far, with arrivals scheduled into February. A housing team hosts sessions Mondays at 1pm to help potential and current landlords and property managers feel secure renting to newcomers who are seeking work.

The stated intentions of the Minnesota support team are to uplift the individuals and families as experts of their own needs, celebrate their resilience, elevate the voices of those who have been marginalized, and maintain a spirit of joy for healing and transformation.

The working group conversation was moderated by Anjuli Cameron, of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, who concluded by saying that connecting the dots with community help to expand the capacity of resettlement agencies will be appreciated from all, especially as communication processes improve about needs and gaps. “Each day we get better,” she says.

She indicated to Minnesota Women’s Press that there are too many additional organizations to highlight who are responding to this need. “We have had such an incredible community response,” she says. “It has been an incredibly collaborative response between a number of different stakeholders.”


Action = Change