New Jersey offers support to refugees


Zia Akbary from Totowa collected toys, clothes and green tea – a staple among Afghan families – to distribute to refugees who have come to New Jersey since last week during a massive evacuation from Afghanistan .

As an American Afghan who fled the fighting more than 30 years ago, he feels compelled to help other uprooted families make the transition to their new lives in America.

“We want to be there for them, comfort them and provide them with all the materials they need,” said Akbary, who arrived in the United States in 1989 and was granted asylum.

The last plane carrying US forces left Afghanistan on Monday, meeting the August 31 deadline to withdraw forces after 20 years of war. Since July, more than 122,000 people have been evacuated by the United States and its allies, including about 6,000 Americans, as the Taliban quickly took control of the country.

Refugees are accommodatedin seven military bases across the country, includingthe McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Joint Base in Burlington County. They include people who have supported the US mission and forces in Afghanistan for the past 20 years and their families.

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Across New Jersey, Afghan families, community groups and places of worship have mobilized a massive effort to help those now sheltered inside buildings and in a temporary tent town on the 42,000-acre campus. of the common base.

Donation drives were held statewide at Islamic centers and community organizations. pick up diapers, clothes, toiletries and baby food among many other items. On Monday, military officials called on the public to halt donations of goods until they can identify what they have and what they still need.

Refugee resettlement organizations say financial support is still needed. The massive and sudden influx of refugees is a unique event in a generation that has not been seen since the end of the Vietnam War, said Courtney Madsen, director of the Jersey City office of Church World Service.

But finding housing for so many families in a tight housing market will be a challenge, she said. CWS could also consider temporary apartments through Airbnb, which has offered to house 20,000 Afghan refugees free of charge to help them resettle across the world.

An Airman prepares personal protective equipment to assist with the arrival of Afghans at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Aug. 21, 2021.

Refugees will also need mental health and social support services “to deal with what has happened” or to cope with the fear or anxiety they feel for those who remain, Madsen said.

“The way the evacuation happened – people came here suddenly and had this really traumatic experience and almost at the same time have a resettlement experience – it’s going to present a whole new challenge for this population,” a- she declared.

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Resettlement agencies may also be less equipped to cope with the sudden influx than just a few years ago; they had to cut programs and staff when refugee admissions were drastically reduced under the Trump administration.

The refugees will remain at the base for several months to a year, where they will undergo medical examinations and security checks. Refugee groups are asking landlords, congregations and other groups to help them identify available accommodation. Although refugees generally do not have a credit or employment history in the United States, they will have legal status and initial rent assistance. Then they can settle down with their families or find accommodation through resettlement agencies.

Sageda Saleh of Morris Plains, carries baby diapers and women's products while sorting donations left at the Passaic County Islamic Center for Afghan Refugees temporarily staying at Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst.

Freshta Taeb, board member of the Afghan-American Foundation, was also concerned about the difficulties in finding housing and employment.

“The rent assistance will be temporary depending on how they got to the United States,” she said. “We are working to create a fund of funds to provide rent assistance to people once resettled. “

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About 156,000 Afghans live in the United States, according to a 2019 survey by the US Census Bureau. About 3,100 are in New Jersey. Many know the trauma of war and the anxiety of moving to a new country.

More than 500 people from the Afghan community in New Jersey have volunteered to help the refugees, said Sikandar Khan, executive director of Global Emergency Response and Assistance, an organization that helps coordinate volunteer efforts and donations.

Marie Paniahie from Parsippany, Farrah Hadad from Mahwah and Zainab Ahmadi from Parsippany meet with other volunteers at the Passaic County Islamic Center to sort and organize donations of clothing, baby food, diapers and baby items. personal hygiene, for Afghan refugees temporarily staying at Joint Base McGuire -Dix Lakehurst.

Afghan families and mosques coordinated a fundraiser at the Passaic County Islamic Center in Paterson on Tuesday. Many have offered to translate for refugees or host children who have come without their parents, said Khan, who is of Afghan descent and served in the US military in Afghanistan in 2014.

For Akbary, helping the people of his native country is not a new vocation. He and his daughter Zarina started a non-profit organization in 2020 called Fardah Roshan Academy, which hires Afghan women as teachers to provide a home-based primary school.

Today, Akbary is concerned that the teachers and librarians he hired will be targeted by the Taliban because of their work for his US-based nonprofit. He wrote to elected officials to ask for their help in ensuring the evacuation of his employees in danger.

Akbary fled the country during the brutal Soviet-Afghan war and was granted asylum in the United States. Today, at 52, he is married with two daughters, runs a jewelry store and wants to give back.

“I remember how difficult life was and how many died and were killed in front of me,” he said. “I am grateful to the American people. I am now able to help others.

Hannan Adely is a diversity reporter covering Arab and Muslim communities for, where she focuses on social issues, politics, prejudice and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @adelyreporter

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