Afghan non-profit organizations are navigating cheaply in Austin, COVID worries

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The need for affordable housing has been a key issue in Austin in recent years, spurred by continued rental inflation and limited housing availability. As some residents have long been forced to relocate from Austin due to rising prices, a portion of newcomers are struggling to gain access among restricted housing units and access to transportation: Afghan refugees.

This is where several local organizations and Good Samaritans have entered.

In the midst of the Afghan crisis and last summer’s rise in Afghan refugee resettlements globally, Austin has already received hundreds of refugees. At the end of the fiscal year 2021-22, the Refugee Services of Texas estimates that 1,020 refugees will call Austin home.

But beyond the move itself, it comes to calling a place “home” down to more than just having a temporary home, said Anjum Malik, CEO of the Austin-based nonprofit Global Impact Initiative. Many refugees who move have short-term housing options but need to find more stable services after their first few months in the United States, she said.

“Most Americans face a challenge to affordable housing. Now imagine that you are a refugee,” she said. “You arrive in the United States without community ties.”

As part of GII’s services, Malik and volunteers help find employment opportunities for refugees, enroll in education for their children and secure everyday things such as WiFi, SIM cards and transportation. The nonprofit organization also hosts training seminars and mentoring programs to help those coming to the United States improve their English and job training skills for employment.

Aijaz Hassan, president of the North Austin Muslim Community Center, said the same challenges harm refugees that the NAMCC serves. But a primary problem affecting Afghan refugees resettling across the globe is not just the affordability component, but society.

“When they get here, they suddenly feel like there is no home for them,” he said. “So what we have also done is to feel welcome in this country – to feel them so that they are not alone.”

Hassan said the NAMCC has assembled teams of volunteers who speak different languages ​​and collaborated with refugees whose mother tongues are in line to help streamline this communication channel. The NAMCC has expanded its ESL program to accommodate the increase in Central Texas Afghan refugees and coordinate with volunteers to transport class participants to and from their current residences for the program.

As with virtually every aspect of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed its own unique threats to Afghan refugees – namely secure access to groceries and other home resources.

NAMCC executives launched a drive-thru merchant service at the beginning of COVID-19, with weekly personal or delivery services. Twice a week, volunteers distribute diapers, breast milk substitutes and other baby necessities to mothers with infants or toddlers.

Since the end of August, resident Annie Hardy has been working with her colleagues on Afghan resettlement efforts. Community, she said, has a dual meaning when it comes to resettlement of refugees.

The first concerns the resources made available to Afghan refugees, as well as inviting them to meet, cooperate and develop relationships with other Afghans in the community. The second, and a critical, component is how the larger Austin community accepts those who now call the region home, she said.

“You have these pockets of austinites where they are like, ‘oh, there are a lot of Afghans who moved into my neighborhood. I want to give them clothes, I want to go ahead and visit them, I want to welcome them, “she said.” So you have these really big, organized efforts like GII and NAMCC, and then you have these pockets of guerrilla- welcome teams across the city who recognize that something is needed. “

Suma Aithal, who works with Hardy, has helped a family living in a one-bedroom apartment navigate leases and other financial costs. For the family of five – the couple, their two children and a cousin – Aithal said that working with local organizations has helped explain their refugee status to landlords and help extend leases.

“The kids are so excited every time I go there and take something for them,” she said. “It’s just really heartwarming to see it, and I think when you know the family, it becomes really personal.”

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