Spokane Community Continues to Support Newly Arrived Afghans and Advocates for Dedicated Healing Space

Atia Iqbal, a lawyer in Afghanistan, arrived in Spokane in 2015.

Before coming to the United States, her husband taught inmates how to sew at a US military-owned prison at Bagram Base in Afghanistan, she said.

At one time, most of those incarcerated were associated with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, Iqbal said. Someone threw a pair of scissors at her husband’s neck as prison attacks became a daily occurrence. Her husband’s manager recommended that they apply for special immigrant status to come to the United States. Three years later, Iqbal and her husband arrived in Spokane.

Today, Iqbal uses his experience to help others relocate to Spokane from Afghanistan as part of the massive community effort to help Afghans who fled their country after it fell to the Taliban. She works as a cross-cultural navigator with Refugee Connections Spokane, a non-profit organization that supports refugees in the area. She takes newcomers to appointments, translates their mail and helps them apply for food stamps or rental assistance.

Newcomers to Spokane must navigate unfamiliar government agencies and a foreign language, while trying to heal from the trauma of watching their homeland fall and deal with the stress of knowing they’ve left family and friends behind. But there are social service programs, such as Refugee Connections, to help them find a new footing in their new city.

After the Taliban seized several major Afghan cities, including the capital Kabul, last August, thousands of Afghans were targeted because of their connection to the United States and its military, according to the National Immigration Forum.

“Since the start of the crisis in August 2021, we have welcomed more than 300 Afghan refugees in December 2021,” said World Relief Spokane spokesperson Justin Li. In general, refugees – the majority of whom are families — are based in the city of Spokane, so they have access to services, Li said.

Community organizations in Spokane connect Afghans to resources such as housing and employment, and advocate for ways to help them heal from the traumas they faced when they fled their country.

Refugee Connections has tried to fill the gaps by providing resources to newcomers from Afghanistan, said executive director Kathryn Garras.

Refugee Connections is alerted to refugees in need of assistance by other community organizations, community members and staff with ties to refugee families, Garras said. The organization provides backpacks, school supplies, food, clothing and household items to these families.

Organizations such as Refugee Connections say they have been able to help Afghan families in part because of tremendous community support in Spokane.

Refugee Connections has received significant support from private donors, Garras said.

“It was amazing to see Spokane show up for newcomer families,” she said.

Naghmana Sherazi, leader of Muslims for Community Action and Support, recalls one of the city’s first welcoming events for refugees – a rally in December at Spokane’s Woman’s Club.

During the event, an Afghan man walked onto the event stage in tears, Sherazi said. He grabbed the microphone and told the audience in his native Dari that a day earlier he had learned that his best friend had been shot in Afghanistan because of his affiliation with the US military. A woman, a professional boxer and teacher in Afghanistan, had left her children behind to bring her three grandchildren to the United States. Not everyone has access to the kind of money needed to come here, Sherazi said.

Now Sherazi and others are advocating for Spokane to provide a community center where newly arrived Afghans can come together and heal from the traumas they have faced.

“Imagine being chased down and killed on the street,” Sherazi said. “You don’t know when you leave your house whether you’re going to come back alive or not, whether you’re going to see your family or not, whether your daughter is going to be picked up because you had an association with the American military or because you are a teacher.

Sherazi is working with Spokane leaders to advance the proposed healing space.

“It’s the human contingent we’re talking about – the human cost of war,” Sherazi said.

After receiving family assignments from the Department of State, World Relief provides case managers or social workers to Afghans upon their arrival in the city.

“We are still feeling the impact of the events that took place in Afghanistan in August,” World Relief’s Li said. The organization recently created a new department dedicated solely to the resettlement of Afghans.

World Relief provides them with three months of services, including helping them access affordable housing, job placement or training, English lessons and social services such as food stamps and social security cards. .

“They come in with next to nothing,” Li said.

Under US law, refugees can enter the country under the Special Immigrant Visa Program or Priority 2 refugee status, which can take years to process, according to the National Immigration Forum. On August 23, the Biden administration announced that humanitarian parole status would be used so Afghans could enter the United States faster without a visa.

While federally funded support services — like World Relief’s three-month assistance services — have been expanded to help Afghan parolees, people on special immigrant visas and refugees, status Humanitarian parole expires after two years, according to Mark Finney, former director of World Relief Spokane, who spoke in an interview before he left the organization. Those with special immigrant visas and refugees are placed on the path to permanent residency and citizenship, but not parolees.

Parolees can apply for asylum to be placed on the path to permanent residency or citizenship, but the process can take years and be expensive, Finney said.

Finney recently resigned as director of World Relief Spokane after a gay man’s job offer to become a lawyer was rescinded by World Relief’s national office because he was married to a same couple. sex. Emmanuel Campos Gonzalez, the lawyer and candidate in question, filed a lawsuit against World Relief last month.

World Relief Spokane declined to comment on whether this issue has affected the organization’s work with Afghan refugees, referring any request for comment on the matter to the national office.

Refugee Connections wrote a letter to the World Relief country office condemning World Relief’s decision and encouraging the group to back down.

“RCS was shocked and disappointed to hear about discriminatory hiring practices at World Relief, and we stand with our LGBTQ+ community for basic human rights,” said Garras of Refugee Connections.

Garras said World Relief’s views should not negatively impact refugees and others.

“Our goal is to welcome refugees and immigrants to our community,” Garras said. “We aim to provide services to people who do, and we will continue to do our best to connect with people who may benefit from these services.”

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