Afghan Refugee Nonprofits Navigate Austin’s Affordability and COVID Concerns

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The need for affordable housing has been at the center of discussions in Austin in recent years, spurred by continued rent inflation and limited availability of housing. While some longtime residents have been forced to relocate from Austin due to rising prices, a subgroup of newcomers are struggling to access them amid limited housing units and transportation access. : Afghan refugees.

This is where several local organizations and Good Samaritans stepped in.

Amid the Afghan crisis and last summer’s upsurge in resettlement of Afghan refugees around the world, Austin has already taken in hundreds of refugees. By the end of the 2021-2022 fiscal year, Refugee Services of Texas estimates that 1,020 refugees will settle in Austin.

But beyond the move itself, calling a place “home” isn’t just about having a temporary residence, said Anjum Malik, executive director of the Austin-based nonprofit Global Impact Initiative. Many refugees who move have short-term housing options, but need to find more stable services after their first months in the United States, she said.

“Most Americans face the challenge of affordable housing. Now imagine you are a refugee, ”she said. “You come to the United States with no connection to the community. “

As part of GII’s services, Malik and volunteers help find employment opportunities for refugees, get their children educated, and secure daily essentials such as WiFi, SIM cards and transportation. The non-profit organization also runs educational webinars and mentoring programs to help those coming to the United States improve their English skills and job training for the job.

Aijaz Hassan, president of the North Austin Muslim Community Center, said these same challenges hurt the refugees served by NAMCC. But one of the main issues affecting the resettlement of Afghan refugees around the world is not just the affordability component, but the community.

“When they get here they suddenly feel that there is no home for them,” he said. “So what we’ve also done is feel them welcome in this country – feel them so they’re not alone. “

Hassan said NAMCC has assembled teams of volunteers who speak multiple languages ​​and paired them with refugees whose mother tongues align, to help streamline this channel of communication. NAMCC has expanded its ESL program to accommodate the small increase in Afghan refugees from central Texas and is coordinating with volunteers to transport students to and from their current accommodations to the program.

As with virtually every aspect of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed its own threats to Afghan refugees, namely safe access to groceries and other household resources.

NAMCC leaders launched a drive-through grocery service at the start of COVID-19, with weekly in-person or delivery services provided. Twice a week, volunteers distribute diapers, formula and other essentials to mothers of infants and young children.

Since late August, resident Annie Hardy has been working alongside her colleagues on Afghan resettlement efforts. The community, she said, has a double meaning when it comes to refugee resettlement.

The first concerns the resources made available to Afghan refugees, as well as their invitation to meet, collaborate and develop relationships with other Afghans in the community. The second element, and a critical one, is how the large Austin community accepts those who now inhabit the area, she said.

“You have these pockets of Austinites where they’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of Afghans who moved into my neighborhood. I want to give them clothes, I want to go ahead and visit them, I want to welcome them, ”she said. “So you have these very important organized efforts like the GII and the NAMCC, and then you have these pockets of guerrilla welcome teams all over town who recognize that there is something that is needed. “

Suma Aithal, who works with Hardy, has helped a family living in a two-bedroom apartment deal with apartment leases and other financial costs. For the family of five – the couple, their two children and a cousin – Aithal said working with local organizations has helped explain their refugee status to landlords and extend leases.

“The kids are so excited every time I go there and grab something for them,” she said. “It’s really heartwarming to see that and I think when you get to know the family it gets really personal.”

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