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More than 50 Afghan evacuees have arrived in New Hampshire

A photograph of a mom holding a child as they arrive at a New Hampshire airport.
Diane Shohet
/
International Institute of New England
Afghan evacuees Abdulmuqsad Waziri, his wife Robina, and their four children, who arrived at Logan Airport on October 13, 2021. The Waziri family will be living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

More than 50 evacuees from Afghanistan have arrived in New Hampshire so far, with a dozen people settling in Concord and the surrounding area.

To handle the influx of new arrivals and allow more geographic flexibility for finding housing, the two resettlement agencies in the state have turned to volunteers for assistance easing the transition of people who fled Afghanistan in August.

Refugee resettlement agency Ascentria Care Alliance has accepted 3 families, a total of 14 people, within the area near Concord and Nashua.

Crissie Ferrara, Program Manager for Services for New Americans at Ascentria, said that after Thanksgiving, Ascentria expects to be welcoming new Afghan arrivals every week into 2022. The organization has committed to helping 100 people who fled Afghanistan as humanitarian parolees find new homes in New Hampshire.

The International Institute of New England, another agency resettling Afghans in New Hampshire, had accepted 38 out of an expected total of 75 Afghan arrivals as of Nov. 19, most in Manchester.

Ascentria has sought to resettle Afghan evacuees in Concord, where its offices are located and a new cultural community can begin to take shape, but the organization has struggled to find available apartments because of the tight rental market.

“There’s one family that’s been placed with a Concord family living in their in-law apartment,” Ferrara said, “we’re looking at that as a model and asking the community to get involved and possibly house people if they have the space.”

Ascentria also resettled one family in Nashua, and is looking at options for Afghan families in Keene, the Upper Valley and along the Seacoast. To facilitate resettlement in farther parts of the state, the agency has put neighborhood support teams into place.

Under this model, a volunteer group of about 10 to 30 people who live locally commit to helping a family get situated during their first few months in the area.

“They’re vetted, they get background checks, they raise money, they are organized,” Ferrara said. “There’s usually a time frame, a minimum of six months to a year. Then, usually the friendships last beyond that.”

The neighborhood support teams are strategically formed to cover a variety of skills that can help area newcomers, such as teachers who can help kids adjust to school. The Concord group includes a member who speaks Farsi, a language also spoken in Afghanistan where it is called Dari.

Members of these groups coordinate with Ascentria staff to help evacuees find employment, enroll kids in school, offer rides to medical appointments, and in the case of one recent team accomplishment, sign a young girl up for a dance class.

Ferrara said Ascentria had considered implementing this cosponsorship model, which has been used successfully in Europe and Canada, in the past. With the rapid pace of arriving Afghans and the housing challenges in Concord, the model is even more appealing now.

Difficulty hiring enough staff has enhanced the challenges of the resettlement process. Ascentria is looking for case managers, while the International Institute has a number of open positions.

“We’re still trying to hire, which probably has been harder just due to the wage crisis,” Ferrara said.

The International Institute also turned to volunteers to scale up its Afghan resettlement work. Traditionally, volunteer teams helped set up apartments for arriving refugees, said Diane Shohet, director of development and communications, but the organization is trying to involve more community members in the resettlement process in family support teams.

“Given the sheer volume of people coming, we are changing our model to include circles of volunteers,” Shohet said.

A few differences set the Afghan resettlement process apart from the traditional refugee pipeline. The Afghans arriving in New Hampshire are not technically refugees, but entered the United States with a temporary status called humanitarian parole. While Afghans with the status can access most services available to refugees, unlike other refugees they need to be granted asylum to become long-term U.S. residents or citizens.

Most refugees spend years in camps located in other countries, waiting to be allowed entry or to be able to return to their home country. The Afghan evacuees have been waiting at military bases within the U.S. before moving to local communities.

Because they fled such a short time ago, Shohet said many of the Afghan arrivals are dealing with recent trauma and had to leave behind belongings, documents and personal keepsakes that other refugees might bring with them. “These folks don’t have anything,” she said.

An organizational downshift after a slowdown of refugees entering the country during the Trump administration means the Institute has had to rapidly ramp up its capacity to resettle Afghans.

“The whole resettlement program under the previous administration was largely dismantled, at one point we were down to 15 refugees, so all of a sudden we have this huge surge of people who have very specific needs,” Shohet said.

For residents who want to assist arriving Afghans, Ascentria is looking for volunteers to sort donations and perform administrative tasks in the office. The agency is also resettling refugees from the Congo and Sudan in addition to Afghans.

Both Ascentria and the International Institute will accept donations of money and gift cards for local businesses.

Shohet wants New Hampshire residents to know that Afghans arriving in the United States still need our help, even after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan following the U.S. withdrawal has left headlines.

“I know the Afghans are less in the news now, but these people do need our long term support,” Shohet said. “In the spirit of holiday giving, if they want to support the Institute or support these folks longer term it would be invaluable.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative as part of our race and equity project. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.