Afghan Community Fund fills void for Utah refugees, says Utah Governor Cox


Over 550 Afghans call Utah their home after the Taliban took control of the capital Kabul in August.

About 300 more are to be relocated to Beehive State. At the moment they are housed on military bases, waiting for the green light from the various government agencies charged with reviewing and processing applications.

When you arrive in Utah, the red tape is not yet behind you. They need housing, social security card, driver’s license, health insurance, and other benefits. Some have to enroll children in a public school or daycare center.

These steps are difficult without a solid level of English, and many have to sign up for classes. You have to apply for a job, but not before the first work permit. There are humanitarian probation officers who need to complete their visas, which requires an immigration attorney. There are college students who need to see if their credits transfer to a school in Utah. Others have been health professionals or have done a craft trade and will see if their certifications are still valid in the US (often they are not).

Almost all of them came through Kabul airport, where bomb attacks, mass storms and shootings took place, leaving many with lasting trauma.

“We’ve all seen these pictures and how disturbing it was, and some of the people we saw in these pictures are right here in Utah,” Utah Governor Spencer Cox said Tuesday during a meeting with the editorial staff of Deseret News / KSL where he posted an update on the state Afghan Community Fund.

How Utah’s Fund is helping Afghan refugees

Designed to serve the needs of newcomers in the medical, nutrition, household, legal, educational, and other community needs. the Afghan Community Fund has raised over $ 1.1 million in donations since Cox was introduced on October 19.

The money then goes to refugee aid organizations such as the International Rescue Committee or the Catholic Community Services, which already support newcomers with the above-mentioned tasks. With the community fund, they will have deeper pockets to handle the largest influx of refugees since former President Donald Trump took office.

“We were leaders in the nation when it came to resettlement of refugees and then the faucet was turned off for about four years,” said Cox. “So the relocation agencies had to start up very quickly, and they are helping a lot of people in a short amount of time. There has been some fighting there and we are trying to give them the resources to deal with it. ”

After a few months, the fund will mainly be directed into four key areas: support for the existing Afghan community, support for youth welfare, basic needs including the cost of telephones or computers and legal aid.

The fund is also used for emergencies and can help pay for things like funerals or hospital bills.

What does the Afghan community in Utah need?

The Deseret News spoke to over a dozen Afghan refugees last month, most of whom have recently arrived. When asked what the main problems their community is facing and where they need support, most focus on the same thing: their family stuck in Afghanistan.

Many of the recently evacuated Afghans still have family members in their home country who are currently in hiding and fear that their US connections will put them at risk.

Some refugees say they don’t sleep well out of fear or because they routinely stay up late to talk to their families in Afghanistan, which has a time difference of almost 12 hours.

“I only run until midnight,” says Abdul, who asks that his surname be withheld for the safety of his wife, who is still in Kabul. “Even when I’m super tired, I can’t.”

For some, including Abdul, the fear is so great that they have difficulty eating.

Cox acknowledged that Utah’s role in helping families flee Afghanistan is limited.

“But what we can do – and this is part of the purpose of the fund – is to help with those legal costs because there is a lawsuit to try to get them out of this country,” said Cox. “So, through this legal clinic … let’s give them some hope that there is at least some process, and we’re trying to help them through that process.”

The other part, Cox said, is “giving them the counseling services they need, for those who need psychological counseling”.

Others express frustration that they cannot have the same job in the US as they did in Afghanistan because they lack the appropriate certifications.

Take the Kakaie-Azim family, for example, who were the first Afghan refugees to be resettled in the state, worked as an air traffic controller in Kabul and played a key role in one of the largest air evacuations in history. But in the US he needs various certifications before he can find work at an airport.

Shazia Kakaie (left) and her husband Azim Kakaie stand during the national anthem before a soccer game between Real Salt Lake and Portland at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday November 3, 2021.
Shafkat Anowar, Desert News

His brother Wali was a dentist in Kabul with his own practice. He wants to continue practicing medicine, but cannot before he has finished school and passed the board examination.

Neither of these disturbs the system.

“I think it’s good because the US has different problems and different technologies,” Wali Kakaie told Deseret News weeks ago. But if they had the time and money they would be in school now, an opinion shared by most of the Afghans who spoke to the Deseret News.

“At the moment there are some funds that could potentially support this,” said Asha Parekh, director of the Utah Office for Refugee Services. “But a major focus for us in the refugee office is employment. … A lot of what we have done with the refugee center in the last five years is really to set up various training opportunities for refugees. ”

Despite the focus on employment, obtaining work permits has proven to be a sluggish process for many Afghans, largely due to the volume of humanitarian layoffs – people likely to qualify for special immigrant visas but the U.S. embassy hasn’t had time to approve it do their paperwork during the chaotic evacuation of Kabul.

The US typically processes around 2,000 humanitarian parole applications annually. You processed over 30,000 in 2021, according to Axios.

“This influx was so massive that the work permits take up additional time. (Department of Workforce Services) has opportunities to support these efforts and provide letters of recommendation. But the federal government’s work permit is a big problem, ”said Stephen LeFevre of the Utah World Trade Center.

Finding long-term volunteers has also been difficult, LeFevre said.

“A lot of people want to bring a boy scout group or something for a day,” he said. “But they need someone who can help with case processing, which is longer term.”

Unsurprisingly, housing is another difficult aspect of the relocation process. LeFevre called it a “bottleneck”. But the state has worked with landlords to provide short-term leases to refugees who lack the work records and credit history often required to sign a lease.

The International Rescue Committee recorded 98 individual cases involving a total of 338 Afghans. 113 of them are in permanent residences.

The Catholic Community Service has now taken in a total of 221 Afghans in 87 cases – 214 of them are in long-term accommodation.

“We’re well on the way to getting people there,” said Cox.

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