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For Afghan refugees, a choice between community and opportunity

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For Afghan refugees, a choice between community and opportunity

Fremont, CA – Harris Mojadedi’s parents fled Afghanistan’s communist revolution four decades ago and arrived as refugees in a 1986 San Francisco suburb, lured by the unexpected presence of a Persian-speaking doctor and a single Afghan grocery store Gave.

Over the decades, as more refugees settled in Fremont, the liberal neighborhood became known as Little Kabul, a welcoming place where Mr. Mojadedi’s father, a former judge, and his wife could both secure blue-collar jobs. , could find an affordable place to live. and raise your children surrounded by mosques, halal restaurants and thousands of other Afghans.

“When I went to school, I saw other Afghan children. I was aware of my culture, and I felt like my community was part of Fremont,” Mr Mojadedi recalled playing teka and chapli kebabs during a recent lunch with other young Afghans in the area.

But now, as the United States begins to absorb a new wave of refugees who were driven out of Kabul in the final, chaotic days of America’s 20-year war in Afghanistan, it’s unclear whether a place like Fremont An ideal destination for them. Housing is out of reach in the Bay Area city, with one-bedroom apartments going for over $2,500 a month. Jobs can be harder to find than in many other parts of the country. The cost of living is driven by nearby Silicon Valley. Even residents of Little Kabul for a long time are moving to cheaper areas.

The alternative is to send refugees to places like Fargo, ND, or Tulsa, Okla., where jobs are plentiful, housing is cheap and mayors are eager for new workers.

But those communities lack the kind of cultural support that Mr. Mojadedi experienced. Displaced Afghans will most likely find language barriers, few social services, and perhaps hostility towards foreigners. Already, there are signs of a backlash against refugees in some states, where economic data show they are most needed.

“Are we setting them up to fail there?” Homaira Hosseini, a lawyer and Afghan refugee who grew up in Little Kabul, asked during lunch. “They don’t have support. Or are we setting them up to fail in places where there are no jobs for them, but support?

That’s a difficult question facing President Biden’s administration and the country’s non-profit resettlement organizations as they work to find a place to live for newly displaced Afghans. As of November 19, more than 22,500 have been settled, including 3,500 a week in October, and another 42,500 live in temporary housing at eight military bases across the country, waiting for their new homes.

Initial agreements between the State Department and resettlement agencies included sending 5,255 to California, 4,481 to Texas, 1,800 to Oklahoma, 1,679 to Washington, 1,610 to Arizona, and hundreds more to nearly every state. North Dakota will receive at least 49 refugees. Mississippi and Alabama would get at least 10.

Where refugees go from is up to resettlement agencies in each state. Sometimes, refugees will ask to live in communities where they already have family or friends. But officials said many of the displaced Afghans who arrived this summer had no links to the United States.

“These people are coming at a time when the job market is great,” said Jack Merkel, the former Democratic governor of Delaware who is overseeing the resettlement effort. “But they are also coming here at a time when the housing market is very tight.”

“Our job is to provide a safe and respectful welcome and prepare people for long-term success,” he said. “And that means we’re doing everything we can to get them to places where it’s affordable, where we connect them to jobs.”

For Mr Biden, the failure to successfully integrate refugees could play into the hands of conservatives who oppose immigration – even those who helped Americans during the war – and claim that Afghans will rob Americans of jobs and bring threats of crime to communities. , After initially welcoming refugees, North Dakota’s Republican governor has taken a tough stance that echoes his party’s concerns.

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Haomayan Karimi, a former refugee who has been a baker at an Afghan market in Little Kabul for over thirty years, thought of another generation of Afghan refugees struggling to forge a new life in the face of financial hardship and discrimination.

“They lived in Afghanistan,” Mr Karimi said through an interpreter during a brief interview at MyWand Market in downtown Fremont. “His money was in banks in Afghanistan which are no longer available to him. So they’re literally starting from nothing.”

Refugees are arriving at a moment of dire economic need – labor shortages across the country mean communities are desperate for workers. In Fargo, where the unemployment rate is 2.8 percent, many restaurants close early because they don’t get enough employees.

“Everybody is looking for people,” said Daniel Hannahar, director of the Fargo Resettlement Office of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which hopes to receive several dozen refugees soon. “And, you know, it’s getting to the point now where everyone’s crazy about the restaurant.”

The same is true in Tulsa, where the unemployment rate is falling further to 3.5 percent. The city’s Republican mayor GT Bynum told Public Radio Tulsa that he looks forward to seeing new refugees see that Tulsa is “a city where we help each other, whether you’ve lived here your whole life or You just got off the plane from Afghanistan.”

Financial aid for Afghan refugees flows through resettlement agencies in the form of one-time payments of $1,225 per person for food aid, rent, furniture, and very small expenses. An additional $1,050 per person is sent to rehabilitation agencies to provide English classes and other services.

Because refugees are authorized to work in the United States, most aid is directed at helping them find jobs, Mr. Merkel said. Refugees are also eligible to receive Medicaid benefits and food stamps.

Historically, refugees have quickly started working in the US, without taking jobs from Americans.

According to a paper published last year in the Journal of Economics by a trio of researchers from University College London, one in five new refugees arriving in the United States find employment in the first year of arrival in the country, a difference among wealthy nations. high rate. Perspective. The employment rate for refugees in the US will increase rapidly in the coming years.

Former President Donald J. Critics of the high levels of refugee acceptance, including top White House officials under Trump, argue that refugees compete with American workers – particularly for low-paying jobs – and dramatically reduce the earnings of those current workers. We do.

The vast majority of empirical economic research shows that this is not true. A detailed report published by the Office of the Chief Economist at the State Department Examines past refugee settlement patterns in the United States, comparing the economic outcomes of areas where they did and simply did not. It found “strong causal evidence that refugees have no adverse long-term effects on the US labor market.”

If anything, economists say, the current labor market makes it even more likely that refugees will steal jobs or suppress wages for people already here. US employers reported more than 10 million job openings nationwide in August, down slightly from a record 11 million in July. The return of workers to jobs or industries left behind in the pandemic has been slow, leaving many restaurants and retail stores desperate to hire.

Few, if any, previous waves of refugees have entered a country with such high labor demand, or with the lure of labor-disturbed sectors that can offer relatively high starting wages for inexperienced workers.

And places like Fargo and Tulsa also offer cheap accommodations. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Fargo is $730 per month, which is less than a third of that in Fremont. The average rent in Tulsa is $760.

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But some are concerned about sending Afghans to places where there are few familiar faces and prejudice is more common.

In Michigan, which is set to receive at least 1,280 refugees, stickers containing the racist message “Afghan Refugee Hunting Permit” were posted in Ann Arbor by the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group.

In Oklahoma, State Republican Party President John Bennett posted a Facebook video in which he accuses refugees of being terrorists – without evidence – while boasting about the dangers of Sharia, the Islamic legal code.

“Oklahmons, I encourage you to call and email the governor, call and email your legislators, and tell him: Don’t let Afghan refugees enter Oklahoma,” Mr. Bennett said in the video.

“We are going to see Islamophobia. We are going to see xenophobia,” said Spojmi Nasiri, an immigration lawyer of Afghan descent who lives near Fremont. “We’re seeing it already.”

But Mr Merkel said much of the community – including the conservative, Republican-leaning ones – has been very welcoming. He credits this to the stalwarts of the country who have embraced Afghans in a big way.

“When they are as outspoken as they were before, it helps a lot with elected officials from both parties,” Mr Merkel said.

Advocates say that despite the high cost of living and fewer available jobs, established Afghan enclaves like Fremont can provide a much-needed support network.

The International Rescue Committee, which operates a rehabilitation office in Oakland, Calif., near Fremont, said it had already established committees on housing, health, case management and legal issues ahead of the mass evacuation from Kabul this summer. The Oakland office is hoping to resettle at least 600 to 700 Afghan refugees in the area.

Those who visit Fremont will find a fleet of existing services: adult schools to teach them English, given the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 Afghans in the city; mental health services aimed at the people of Afghanistan; and informal help from mosques in the area.

Some local banks in Fremont are partnering with the city to provide financial coaching.

“That support is important,” said Oakland office director Jordan Tofigi. “Some local mosques are distributing food. Some grocery stores have meal pick up times. ,

Fremont also includes social service agencies, including the Afghan Coalition, which has been catering to Afghan residents of the community for several decades. Mijgan Darby, who works for the organization, is pressing resettlement agencies, local governments and the state to provide more financial resources for the latest wave of refugees.

“The question is, who is the designated agency to help them in these different areas where they are being settled?” Ms Darby said recently during an interview at her Fremont office. “Who will navigate for them or help them navigate?”

Mr Karimi, a baker from Fremont Bazaar, said he hopes the latest wave of refugees will get the support they need to flourish in his new country. He attributed this to new arrivals supporting people like himself with jobs, money and encouragement.

“If they want my blood,” he said, tears rolling down his face as he pledged his help to the new arrival, “I will give them my blood.”

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