Afghan evacuees have arrived in the United States under Operation Task Force Eagle since early August 2021. These people are understandably nervous and afraid after experiencing the trauma of leaving their country in such a hurried manner. As they arrive in the U.S. and other countries, dedicated military and civilian personnel seek to provide humanitarian relief to these Afghani citizens as they transition into a new country, culture and circumstance. There are many things we can do to assist in this process.
Understand Their Status
Currently, the Afghan evacuees are going through a strenuous vetting process on military bases in the U.S. This is to make sure they are not part of a group that is currently in conflict with U.S. policies. The majority of the evacuees were citizens who worked for or with the U.S. military by providing translation and cultural services that aided in U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.
Some of the Afghan evacuees are classified as being under a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). The SIV allows evacuees access to benefits like housing, medical assistance, school enrollment and other services that help them settle into American life. The SIV also offers a clear pathway to becoming legal permanent residents or green card holders.
The majority of the Afghans have been admitted to the U.S. under the Humanitarian Parole process, which is an emergency plan that forgoes the usual red tape and allows people to quickly enter the U.S. Humanitarian parole provides emergency government funding grants to assist people with settling into the U.S. However, the process only lasts for two years which is a challenge for an Afghan evacuee to update their status to asylum seeker or reunification with family members.
It is important to understand the status of the Afghan evacuees so that any assistance rendered can be relevant. Recognize that Afghan evacuees will not be settled in a month or two, but that the process is long and arduous.
Become an advocate
Advocating for an evacuee requires commitment and awareness. Pay attention to how the Afghan evacuees are being treated in the area where you live. Some Americans welcome the idea of these new immigrants, others are categorically opposed to the resettlement of Afghans in the U.S.
In addition, some of the policies that were previously in place were dismantled during the Trump administration. However, there are many federal state and local authorities as well as Afghan diaspora groups and refugee resettlement agencies that can be a resource.
Recognize that congressional action is needed to ensure the safety and security of these Afghan evacuees. At this point in the process they need us – Americans – to be their voice to protect their access to refugee benefits and reduce the time it takes to go through the asylum process. Remember - When benefits run out the family will experience intense poverty.
Be prepared to contact your local, state and federal representatives to demand that programs are funded and services are provided.
Due to the expeditious nature of their withdrawal from Afghanistan, the vast majority of the Afghan evacuees left home with very few of their personal belongings. This is naturally an emotionally distressing experience. In addition, their day to day circumstances are tenuous.
On a practical level, these evacuees need everything. Organize a drive to provide hygiene products, diapers, travel kits, small games, small books, and Halal, easy to carry snacks. It is a good idea to donate money so that area donation centers are not overwhelmed with items that their staffing and space limitations are unable to fill.
Check your local Masjid and volunteer organizations for the process in place in your area to assist. If there is nothing in place, then take the lead in initiating assistance.
Although Americans see the Afghan evacuees as a singular cultural group, the people of Afghanistan represent many different ethnic and linguistic groups. The official language of the country is Pashto and Persian (Dari). The three largest ethnic groups are the Pashtuns, the Tajiks, and the Hazaras, but there are numerous ethnolinguistic groups including Uzbek, Aimaq, Turkmen, Baloch, Pashai, Nuristani, Gujjar, Arab, Brahui, Qizilbash, Pamiri, Kyrgyz, Sadat and others.
It is important to note the multi-ethnic and linguistic reality of the country so when working with an evacuee, there is cultural respect. During the early stages, the evacuees are being vetted by the government and deliberately isolated for their own safety. However, as their situation improves and continues, their contact with people outside of their designated evacuation area will increase.
If you have Pashto- or Persian-speaking individuals in your community, that would be helpful. Approach counselors and legal experts that are culturally sensitive to donate their time and/or resources. Of course, you can volunteer to be a linguistic and cultural guide.
Also, remember these people are Muslim and need translated copies of the Quran in their language, prayer rugs, Islamic clothing, a compass to find the Qibla and practical information of how they can practice Islam. Eventually, they will be allowed to leave their designated evacuee area and will need mentors to help them navigate area Masjids not only for worship, but also for connecting with other Muslims. Those hosting agencies may or may not be aware or able to meet the Islamic needs.
In Islam, we know that from Prophet Ibrahim, may God be pleased with him, to Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, that even Prophets to mankind have been part of the immigration process. In our daily prayers, we should beg Allah, The Most High, to ease the difficulty of these brothers and sisters. It was reported that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, told the believers:
Whoever relieves the hardship of a believer in this world, Allah will relieve his hardship on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever helps ease someone in difficulty, Allah will make it easy for him in this world and in the Hereafter (Sahih Muslim 2699, Grade: Sahih).