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Crosscurrents is our award-winning radio news magazine, broadcasting Mondays through Thursdays at 5 p.m. on 91.7 FM. We make joyful, informative stories that engage people across the economic, social, and cultural divides in our community. Listen to full episodes at kalw.org/crosscurrents

Afghan refugees navigate Bay Area resettlement

Afghan Flag.jpg
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
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Three months after the Taliban takeover of Aghanistan, evacuees are still streaming into the Bay Area. And for some of them, federal benefits are about to run out. In Fremont, CA, which hosts one of the largest Afghan communities in the country, the Afghan Coalition is helping these newly-arrived families get settled. 

Evacuees from Afghanistan line up outside its offices, in a concrete government building. Inside, stacks of file folders and public aid pamphlets cover the surfaces. One woman stands in a hallway, waiting for help with her Housing Voucher, or Section 8, application.

She says she is 32 years old, and she came here with her husband and three children - two boys and one girl. She doesn’t wish to give her name, for fear that the Taliban could retaliate against her family back home.

Refugees receive three months of federal resettlement assistance, including a one-time stipend of $1200 per person. Here in one of the most expensive rental markets in the nation, most of them use that to help pay the rent.

This woman says her family’s three months are almost up. She says her husband found work at an auto body shop. But they are still not making enough for rent, and may have to move three hours away if their housing voucher application is accepted in another county.

The language barrier is another difficulty, and there’s the issue of getting around in a new place. She rode her bike here today.

She is one of at least 250 Afghan evacuees to arrive in the Bay Area just since October 1st, according to the International Rescue Committee. They are fleeing unrest, after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August.

On arriving in the Bay Area, evacuees meet with federally contracted refugee resettlement agencies like the International Rescue Committee, or IRC. Among its many services, the IRC helps evacuees access temporary housing. Jordane Tofighi, who directs the Oakland office, says the IRC is trying to build landlord partnerships, but it’s hard to get buy-in for accepting families that have no credit history, and no current employment or employment history in the US.

According to Tofighi, the evacuees coming through the IRC Oakland are mostly families who worked with the US government. “The families,” she says, “have endured a tremendous amount of trauma.” Many witnessed terrible violence when the Taliban took power.

Most of the Afghans I meet decline to be interviewed, even anonymously. There are reports that the Taliban is beating the relatives of those who speak with the press.

Within Afghanistan, half the population is facing acute hunger, according to the United Nations. Food scarcity is expected to worsen as winter snows start to block supply routes. The country is in a severe drought, the price of food is rising, and unemployment is widespread.

One 18-year-old evacuee says her brother used to work in the Afghan post, and they have not given him his salary in three months. “The Taliban said that we don't have money to pay you,” she explains.

The woman is staying in Fremont with her 19-year-old cousin, who travelled to the US with her. He also had to leave family behind - his mom, his brother, and his sister - when he got separated from them in the airport.

These two cousins are training today to become volunteers with the Afghan Coalition, to help other evacuees access services.

The 18-year-old woman says she’s waiting for her new ID to arrive in the mail. Once it does, she plans to enroll in community college and become a lawyer. She says she was scheduled to take her final exam in Kabul on the day the Taliban took over the city. “We are so excited to go to college soon,” she says.

More evacuees are expected to arrive in the Bay Area in the coming months. To assist with resettlement efforts, readers can contact the Oakland IRC, the Muslim Community Center East Bay, the Noor Islamic and Cultural Community Center, or the Afghan Coalition.