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'The government is failing us': Afghan Americans have stepped up to assist Afghan refugees in the US as resettlement orgs struggle to meet demand

Sarah Al-Arshani   

'The government is failing us': Afghan Americans have stepped up to assist Afghan refugees in the US as resettlement orgs struggle to meet demand
  • Afghan-Americans say they've stepped up to assist Afghans resettled in the US.
  • Thousands of Afghans were resettled in the US after the Taliban takeover forced them to flee.

More than eight months after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan led to the chaotic withdrawal and resettlement of evacuees across the US and the world, Afghan-Americans say they're taking on the responsibility of meeting the needs of those resettled.

Arash Azizzada, the co-founder of Afghans for a Better Tomorrow, told Insider that with a larger influx of refugees, the US resettlement agencies could not accommodate them.

"The current system in place cannot handle the large influx of Afghan new arrivals. It's very much clear that refugee resettlement organizations are probably doing their best and they're trying to scale up at this moment too, and trying to probably recover as well from years of being decimated," Azizzada told Insider.

Insider previously reported that former President Donald Trump's administration drastically cut the number of refugees that could be admitted to the US and cut funding for resettlement programs.

And under President Joe Biden, refugee advocates have criticized the administration for neglecting the needs of Afghans and the bureaucratic backlog that has upended much of their ability to resettle.

Several resettlement groups told Insider's Charles Davis and Kenneth Niemeyer in September that they were struggling to find enough staff, funding, and housing for anticipated Afghan arrivals.

The issue has persisted in the months since.

Earlier this month, The Des Moines Register reported that some relocated Afghan families were going days without food, some were still living in hotels, and some have been unable to get adequate medical care.

KETV7, a local ABC News station in Nebraska, also reported that Afghans resettled in the state were experiencing similar circumstances with case managers not responding, and their ability to start new lives held up in bureaucratic red tape with limited help to navigate it.

Azizzada told Insider that the issue is nationwide, and it's not just at the federal level but at the state and local level that more than 70,000 new Afghans in the country are having their needs not fulfilled.

"There's this 90-day period where they are supposed to receive assistance or help and in many cases, that's just not occurring. People are not having their calls returned by their case managers or refugee resettlement organizations," he said.

'The government is failing us'

To fill the gap, Afghan-Americans, alongside charity organizations, have stepped up.

"We're just young Americans with no resources, no resettlement experience — young professionals in our respective places trying to provide this job that's not even ours," said Zuhal Bahaduri, a co-founder of The 5ive Pillars Organization, a nonprofit that helps resettle refugees in Northern California.

"We rose into action in August following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan to help with the influx of refugees that were arriving here. Our group were Afghan-Americans, so we have lived experiences. Our families migrated here over 30 years ago, so we wanted to step up and help make these families transition into our communities easier."

Bahaduri's organization is one of many that has stepped up to assist Afghans following the Taliban takeover. She said The 5ive Pillars Organization has, so far, helped close to 600 families that have been resettled in 16 different cities in Northern California. The organization partners with resettlement and charity organizations in the region.

The group is working directly out of a community center in Hayward, California.

Bahaduri's said the community center serves as a distribution center where other agencies can send Afghan families to pick up basic hygiene essentials, clothes, baby essentials, non-perishable food items, school supplies, and pandemic-related gear. Her organization also provides translation services, assistance with applications, transportation, and finding access to medical care, among other services.

"To be honest, like the government is failing us and the burden of successfully resettling again is going onto groups like us, Afghan-American community orgs, and we're not funded or there are some but they're underfunded. So, they're coming to us because we are able to provide this service and support and they're not getting it elsewhere," Bahaduri said.

Some volunteers, who also work as caseworkers, assist refugees to navigate the resettlement process, but they're doing so on top of full-time jobs. Their priority right now, she said, is to help the 20 to 25 families that are still living in hotels find permanent housing. Those families, Bahaduri said, have been in hotels for at least five months.

The group's work also involves other major resettlement duties such as figuring out how to get families registered for medical insurance, getting kids enrolled in school, helping parents find work and affordable childcare, and making sure their applications don't fall through the cracks.

Mirriam Seddiq, president of the Komak Foundation in Virginia, told Insider that the organization came about in August 2021 as Afghans began to be resettled following the Taliban takeover. The word "Komak" means "help" in Dari, which is what Seddiq said her organization aims to do.

The organization started off with an Amazon wishlist of the needs of the resettled Afghans and quickly grew, however, now Seddiq said there's a decline in donations, but new refugees are still arriving and still need basic necessities.

"We still have huge numbers of people who are coming in who need basic supplies and we just don't have what we had early on — not in the amounts that we had early on," she said.

She added that people also don't have housing.

"I've heard stories of a lot of price gouging with respect to rent because people need a place to live. Also, just people being jammed into apartments — 10, 15, 20 people in very small apartments. I don't think there's funding. I mean, the funding's gonna run out and it's up to localities," she said.

Seddiq added: "These refugees that we brought here on our airlifts are gonna be homeless. They're gonna get evicted. So yeah, it's kinda a mess."

She noted that she's also noticing more Afghan refugees arriving in Virginia from other states.

"There are people that potentially were resettled or agencies had decided to resettle them in other locations but had decided to come to Virginia. I imagine places with bigger Afghan populations are facing similar things right now," she said.

Seddiq said the organization will use Facebook to post the needs of refugees, and hope those who can fulfill it will step in to help. She also said Afghan American organizations often exchange information on families in need of assistance to address the shortfalls of resources.

Most importantly, Bahaduri and Seddiq said, is to support refugees to become comfortable in their respective communities. However, for some resettled Afghans, the hurdles to establishing themselves in the US were not what they expected.

"A lot of them miss home, some of them, I think don't even know why they came at this point," Seddiq said. "They're like, well, we didn't know it was gonna be like this."


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