Serving Afghan Refugees

Anjuli Cameron (l) and Nadia Siddiqui at the warehouse that is at the center of the emergency response. Items are curated alongside members of the Afghan diaspora to include familiar appliances like pressure cookers and culturally appropriate foods such as Aahu Barah basmati rice.

Since last summer, more than 2 million people have fled Afghanistan after U.S. troops withdrew from the country. Dozens of Minnesotans are working together to create systems that welcome and support refugees from Afghanistan into Minnesota.

There are 83,000 Afghans seeking relocation to the U.S. According to Rachele King, state refugee coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, 1,500 individuals are expected to resettle in Minnesota. Most are already here.

A majority of the Afghan refugees that have arrived since September are children.

Anjuli Cameron of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans hosts a weekly community conversation with partners and organizations to coordinate the resettlement effort.

PCs for People will supply computers and a year of free wi-fi for families, to help Alight (formerly known as the American Refugee Committee) give access to virtual English classes, telehealth, resume building, job applications, and school communication. Alight is preparing homes for families in partnership with many organizations, says Siddiqui, “soliciting financial and in-kind donations to transform empty homes into human-worthy, family spaces.”

Leila Hussain, community health manager for CAPI USA, an immigration and refugee transitionary organization, says they have been assisting 250 new families arriving to Minnesota since early January.

Refugees are simultaneously seeking employment, finding schools, and navigating everyday life. Most have experienced trauma, and English is not commonly spoken.

Organizations have met to discuss employment options. Job fairs are available, but language will pose challenges. Many refugees are not fully fluent or literate in English. World Education Services is helping refugees translate international records for employers and schools. More agencies are needed to assist CareerForce and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Housing vacancy is slim. Most current housing does not suit the needs of large families. A Twin Cities hotel, for example, is being converted into microunits useful for individual refugees, but is unsuitable for families. Most of the refugees are currently in the Twin Cities, 80 are in Rochester, and some are arriving to Saint Cloud.

The Minnesota Department of Education created a welcome packet for families. Nadia Siddiqui of Alight, which is settling new households alongside Team Rubicon, pointed out the need to provide a sense of belonging for each new Afghan student in classrooms.

The Department of Health is doing medical intakes at the transitional housing space to identify needs, screen vision and children’s dental health, and provide Covid-19 vaccinations.

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 is an ongoing part of serving these new arrivals.

The Department of Human Services is processing health- care applications, securing food access, and providing cash cards. Hennepin County offered quick response to emergency cash and food needs.

Advocates for Human Rights is helping new arrivals understand their legal rights and immigration status.

On-site staff and volunteers have created a space for incoming families to shop, filled with donated backpacks with school supplies. Salvation Army is training volunteers to work at the store.

Resettlement agencies are working with families on documentation papers, employment authorizations, social security cards, food assistance, and meeting basic household needs for move-ins.

Karin Blythe, Lutheran Social Services 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 has been to try to find permanent housing within 30 days of arrival; on average, this is being accomplished within 18 days.

Minnesota Council of Churches has a housing team that hosts conversations to help potential and current landlords and property managers feel secure renting to newcomers who are seeking work. There is a need for housing with three or four bedrooms, and rents ranging from $1,300 to $2,000.

Bridging has been providing household supplies and needs all types of home furnishings, including furniture and houseware.

With a waiting list of six months in Twin Cities locations for road tests, it is hard to quickly get a driver’s license. Cameron says the team is working on the issue of transportation, and gathering partners who can fill in the gaps for families.

How You Can Help

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As of February, the needs for donations, volunteers, housing, and services include: