Afghan arrivals find partners in Rochester

His family has come out of Afghanistan – so far.

Faqiri’s parents, two sisters and grandmother have come out of the country now under Taliban control.

“Their status is still not clear,” he said.

RELATED: Afghanistan man seeks help in Rochester to evacuate family from Kabul

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Faqiri, who works in Rochester under a work visa, hopes he and his family qualify for asylum in the United States

His family, with the exception of his father, was evacuated by a non-governmental organization to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. His father made it to Istanbul, Turkey.

Faqiri said it will probably take another three to six months before they all have their immigration papers ready to move to Canada or the United States.

“I’m grateful they did,” he said.

Massi Faqiri / John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Massi Faqiri / John Molseed / Post Bulletin

His family belongs to the ethnic minority Hazara in Afghanistan. Faqiri said Hazaras were discriminated against and excluded from government participation under Taliban rule. That, along with him living in the United States, could have put his family members at risk of discrimination, arrest or even worse under Taliban rule, he said.

He has been thinking of something else since the Taliban took over the country, he said.

On Saturday night, however, another Afghan family recorded his thoughts. Faqiri hosted a family from Afghanistan who recently arrived in Rochester to relocate to southern Minnesota. Five families, a total of 22 people, have arrived in Rochester from Sunday. A further three families are expected to arrive early this week with a total of five families expected by the end of next week.

Faqiri said he wanted to help make them feel welcome in a community that so far has few people from Afghanistan.

However, that is about to change.

The U.S. State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the federal agency that coordinates the relocation of Afghan refugees and evacuees, has asked Catholic charities in southern Minnesota to coordinate the placement of up to 20 families in Rochester to mid-February.

Tens of thousands of evacuees are temporarily living in military bases across the United States after being evacuated from Afghanistan in August.

Catholic Charities is seeking resettlement assistance.

Afghan families arrive in Rochester

During the summer, months before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Catholic charities launched a program of nonprofit groups to sponsor refugee families. Their request was not received much.

“No one really came into the picture,” said Kristina Hammell, a case officer at Catholic Charities in southern Minnesota.

In August, as people from Afghanistan began arriving in the United States, Catholic charities began to hear answers to their prayers.

“The bonfire was not lit until recent events,” Hammell said. “They became a distinctly tangible group that people were interested in helping.”

Since then, more than half a dozen non-profit organizations have stepped forward to do their part to help some of the up to 20 families from Afghanistan who are expected to resettle in Rochester.

A group, from Autumn Ridge Church, has completed a Catholic charity course and is working with one of the families who have arrived in Rochester.

“Our families engage with them as if they were their neighbors,” said Otis Hall, executive pastor of Autumn Ridge Church.

A group of 18 people work directly with a family, and another group from the church works through the education and orientation of community partners.

“It really takes the number of people to coordinate transportation, rides and have someone there when they are needed,” Hall said.

The goal of the community partner program is to pair religious and nonprofit organizations with incoming refugees and newly arrived families. It is a six-month commitment and a return to an older approach to helping settle refugee families.

Before the State Department standardized the refugee admission process, churches were often the leading and only organization working with refugee families. Churches would provide food and housing and provide other needs until the refugees were established in the community.

“These churches would literally sponsor families,” Hammell said.

Churches did not always meet the needs of families in the same way, Hammell said. In recent years, the process has become more standardized to fit public rules. What Hammell says is a good thing for families arriving.

“In terms of services and making sure they get what they need, we want to make sure their experiences are as fair as possible,” she said.

John Meyers, Catholic Charities Director of Refugee Refugees, on the left, and Kristina Hammell, on the right, greet a family of arrivals from Afghanistan at Rochester International Airport on Tuesday, November 2, 2021 / John Molseed / Post Bulletin

John Meyers, Catholic Charities Director of Refugee Refugees, on the left, and Kristina Hammell, on the right, greet a family of arrivals from Afghanistan at Rochester International Airport on Tuesday, November 2, 2021 / John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Each family has different needs and different levels of English skills. It is up to the caseworkers at Catholic Charities to meet the needs of each of these families. They help families enroll in language courses and federal nutrition programs such as WIC, ensure that arrivals receive health insurance and have children enrolled in school. Although it helps families with daily things, Hammell said the system lost a personal touch.

“There’s something to be said about people being engaged and compassionate with one family,” she said.

Community sponsors are allowed to do the “fun part,” said John Meyers, Catholic Charities’ director of refugee resettlement.

Unofficial partners

Meyers said Rochester is a good choice for the resettlement program for several reasons, including a significant Muslim population, halal food stores, and several programs and organizations that help international arrivals. The Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association and the Rochester Muslim Community Circle have both offered assistance. However, there is a language barrier between most of the newly arrived and the populations of Muslims who are already here.

“I’m not talking dari, and that’s my biggest drawback to helping right now,” said Rashid Fehmi, from RMCC.

Dari is a Persian language that is widely used in Afghanistan. Few people here speak the language.

Nevertheless, he has hosted one of the families for dinner and said the RMCC is ready to help other families when they arrive. Members of an employee assistance program from the Mayo Clinic have also volunteered to help.

Anwar Haq, who owns the International Spices grocery store in downtown Rochester, has seen waves of new immigrants to the local community since the store opened in 1994. He speaks eight languages ​​and has helped welcome Sudanese, Somalis, Iraqis and other arrivals in its time. the store.

“God gives me health, he gives me everything, why not help,” he said. “It’s my community; I do not care where they come from, they are here. ”

Dari is not one of Haq’a’s eight languages, but he was able to speak to members of one of the arriving families in Urdu, a language spoken in parts of India, Pakistan and other areas of Asia.

Meyers said Haq’s welcoming behavior and store communicate well enough when families go there to buy food.

“It’s a familiar kind of space for them,” Meyers said.

Meyers is one of the few people in the city who speaks Dari, after spending about nine years in Afghanistan and working for NGOs from 2005 to 2014.

Faqiri said he was happy to host a family dinner and look forward to seeing more Afghan arrivals in the community as well. Helping others has been a welcome distraction from worrying about one’s own family.

His hope is that his family can join him in Rochester and meet his new friends who are resettling here.

“I would love that,” he said. “I have never been in an Afghan community outside of Afghanistan.”

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