Middle Tennessee groups prepare for arrival of Afghan refugees – Tennessee Lookout

Middle Tennessee refugee resettlement programs need all the help they can get to properly accommodate Afghan refugees coming to Nashville

At least 300 Afghan refugees will arrive at Nashville International Airport over the next few months and several nonprofits – United Way of Greater Nashville, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, the Nashville International Center for Empowerment and the American Muslim Advisory Council – have teamed up to set up a city-wide fundraising campaign to provide refugees with health care, legal services, housing and food, among other necessities.

Afghan refugees were initially classified as parole in order to expedite their resettlement, but were not eligible for most federal aid. On September 30, Congress adopted legislation enabling Afghans to receive federal benefits.

But without a clear timeline for their arrival, officials continue to marshal available resources in the event of a pandemic.

In the meantime, the normally calm Afghan community of Nashville is offering its services.

The Afghan community of Nashville is relatively new compared to other immigrant communities in the region. Over the past 10 years, Afghans who served as translators for the US military and other refugees have resettled with their families in Nashville and focused on rebuilding their lives. But in recent months, Afghans living in Nashville have reacted to the Taliban forces who regain control of Afghanistan.

In August 2021, the world saw Kabul collapse under a terrorist organization, erasing decades of progress and American efforts to stabilize the new regime in Afghanistan.

News footage showed Afghans chaotically storming Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport. Mothers handed babies to US soldiers over barbed wire walls in a desperate attempt to save their children from Taliban forces.

In response, the Afghan community in Nashville staged protests while acknowledging that they were among the few who were able to escape in time.

Hangama Wahidi, president of the Nashville Afghan Association, estimates that there are currently 2,000 Afghan-Americans living in Nashville. And the community was quick to step in and help refugee resettlement organizations.

“We were panicking. We were like, what should we do because they have nothing, ”Wahidi said.

Afghan volunteers had to pass background checks in order to participate in the refugee resettlement program. Once that was done, they were able to offer their much-needed services, such as transport and translation, to help the refugee officials.

Often, Wahidi receives the call to mobilize just hours before the refugees arrive. In this short time, Afghan volunteers coordinate with refugee organizations and scramble to find all the necessities needed to start a new life in a foreign country.

Thanks to social media, the Afghan community was able to raise $ 8,000 to buy basic necessities, such as spices for cooking and food, but soon realized that the refugees were arriving with nothing but clothes on the back. Community leaders changed their strategies to focus on buying gift cards for shopping.

Ezaz Noori served as an interpreter for US troops in Afghanistan before being transferred, with his family, to Nashville in 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Refugee organizations are in charge of most of the resettlement process, such as finding short-term accommodation. Amid a pandemic and a city with few affordable housing options, it’s not easy, said Louisa Saratora, state refugee coordinator for the Tennessee Office for Refugees, a works department. Catholic charities.

Some refugees have already arrived and families are currently staying in hotels, including a family of 11.

“We are still in the process of determining the different needs and resources that this group might need,” she said, adding that the volunteers have come up with temporary housing options.

The Catholic Charities Diocese of Nashville has decades of experience helping refugees in their new lives, but in recent years they have been forced to downsize due to shrinking budgets as part of the policies conservative immigration policies of the Trump administration.

“The phased cuts by the last administration had a long-term impact on services that had experience in managing the asylum process,” said Rick Musacchio, director of communications at Catholic Charities.

Under President Joe Biden, the number of refugees rose from 15,000 at 62,500. Biden was initially reluctant to increase the refugee limit, but received negative reactions from Democrats and refugee advocates.

Yet the Biden administration had not predicted that 62,500 refugees would seek entry into the United States, and in a matter of weeks, nearly 130,000 Afghans and American citizens were airlifted out of Afghanistan during from one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history, reported AP News. At least 50,000 had to be admitted to the United States

Biden increased the previous refugee ceiling to 125,000 on October 1, although this decision came too late to help Afghans fleeing Afghanistan.

As night falls, Afghan volunteers and refugee officials stand ready to greet refugees at the airport, having spent most of the day preparing for the necessities of their new lives.

This is where the Afghan volunteers shine, said Saratora. Some refugees already have family waiting for them in Nashville, and for others, Afghan volunteers provide a warm and familiar welcome.

Refugees are also being resettled in other parts of the state, including Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga, and refugee organizations are also seeing similar responses from Afghan communities.

“Providing a traditional support and welcome when they get here is a great resource,” she said.

Refugee resettlement organizations hope to get refugees back on their feet within months, but in the midst of a pandemic and scarce resources, it can be difficult.

“The pipeline was really cut and it was going to take a while to get everything back up and running,” Mussachio said.

Despite this, the Afghan community is optimistic. With limited housing options, Wahidi has learned that some Nashville residents have offered their Airbnb listings as temporary accommodation.

As Metro Nashville officials and others continue to to collect funds for refugee families, Wahidi can’t help but have hope.

“Their support is incredible. The whole community of Nashville is amazing. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, ”Wahidi said.

Comments are closed.