Earlier this month, the family of UC San Diego student Nabila* successfully fled Afghanistan and received refuge within the San Diego area. She had previously spoken to The UCSD Guardian regarding her family’s experience in Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban’s resurgence in August. While currently waiting for further information regarding their displacement, Nabila wants to provide an update on her family’s acclimation to San Diego to reflect upon the United States’ management of the Afghan refugee crisis.
Shortly after the remainder of U.S. troops were evacuated from the country, media coverage of Afghanistan underwent a sharp decline. Google search trends within the United States highlighted a peak in national interest in the middle of August and a return to baseline the week after all troops were evacuated from the country. However, the strained resettlement system compounded by a national shortage of affordable housing is bringing Afghan refugees back into the public focus.
Nabila’s two sisters and their children are still waiting to be admitted to the U.S. on the contingency of available housing. San Diego is expecting the second highest influx of Afghan refugees in California and is struggling to meet their housing needs. Aid organizations such as the International Rescue Committee are given as little as 24-48 hours notice when new refugees arrive in San Diego but they intend to continue planning ahead for the resettlement of Afghan refugees.
“We’re able to set them up with housing support to make sure kids are enrolled in school and that they can get medical checks they need to have,” Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee San Diego Chapter Donna Duvin told KGTV. “Oftentimes, they’ve been traveling for long periods of time and they have conditions or have prescriptions they need refilled.”
Nabila’s family was accepted on a timeline not dissimilar to that of many Afghan families. Her mother, sister, brothers and their four children were placed into a rented Airbnb in San Diego by an undisclosed agency in early November. However, the majority of funding for their stay was appropriated to their Airbnb. The two brothers have been offered minimum wage jobs within the area but have limited cash to utilize for basic needs.
“They only provide [my family] one check of $165 for the whole month to do their grocery shopping and everything,” Nabila told The Guardian. “They have like $4,000 of ‘welcome money,’ right? They’re not giving the $4,000 to the refugees. The organization keeps most of this money to assign them to a random house.”
Nabila’s mother, who was injured, endured a similar situation upon reentry into the U.S. Despite being a U.S. citizen, her mother was kept in a military camp in Virginia for two months and 10 days.
“The only thing that made me really worried about that is that my mom is a U.S. citizen,” Nabila said. “They decided to put her as an H1-B, give her a case number and make her wait for two and a half months. My question was if she was a US citizen, why did they keep there for that long?”
Only a fraction of the money allocated to her family is made available for use. The agency aiding Nabila’s family remains undisclosed; local refugee relocation agencies draw funds from $6.3 billion in emergency supplemental funding dedicated to temporarily house evacuees at American facilities and in foreign countries.
In a statement addressed to The Guardian, U.S. Representative Scott Peters (D-52) emphasized his intent to tell refugees from Afghanistan that they are welcome in San Diego.
“My message is clear: You are welcome here,” Representative Peters wrote. “Our community has a long history of helping those fleeing violence and oppression and Afghanistan is the newest chapter in that history. There are dozens of organizations throughout the County dedicated to helping immigrants and bringing communities together.”
Representative Peters also noted that there are many different categories under which Afghan evacuees have come to the United States: Special Immigrant Visas, Humanitarian Parole, Refugees, and family members of U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents are among the most common.
Nabila’s two brothers have a doctorate and a master’s degree respectively, and thus were granted H1-B Visas, a visa category that grants highly educated foreign professionals temporary residency within the United States for up to six years. Her mother and sister were granted safe haven on the basis that they are United States citizens.
Afghan refugees continue to struggle to acclimate to relocation in the United States in large part due to trauma faced in Afghanistan. An anonymous Afghan refugee who fled before the Taliban’s takeover told ABC10 News that he and his wife were kept in a military camp in Virginia for 50 days before being placed.
“They sacrificed so much to help the Americans in Afghanistan and they don’t see us as human beings,” the refugee’s translator shared to ABC10 News. “They completely disregard us, our needs and our humanity.”
Nabila’s nieces and nephews have gone nearly two months without attending school since the crisis in Afghanistan. She said that her brothers’ children cannot enroll in local schools until they are moved into permanent housing, which may be as far north as Temecula. Nabila believes that it is unfair for children to have to be taken out of school for prolonged periods of time.
“Right now, they cannot go to school because they have to wait until they get housing,” Nabila said. “Like if they stay one or two more months without going to school, I think it’s a waste of time for the kids. I’m really hoping they will be able to go.”
Some counties throughout the United States have begun enrolling Afghan refugee students. The Washington Post reported that nearly 180 students have enrolled this fall in the public schools of Fairfax County, Virginia, while 50 refugee children in Texas have started classes in Austin and 65 in California have started in Fremont.
Those interested in learning more about resources available to refugee students in San Diego can visit the San Diego Unified School District’s website for more information.
As of the writing of this article, nearly 55,000 Afghan refugees await resettlement within U.S. military bases throughout the country. Recent arrivals can contact local resettlement agencies like the International Rescue Committee by going to their website or calling their San Diego phone number at 619-641-7510. Refugees can also contact members of the San Diego Refugee Forum to learn more about what support systems are in place.
*Editor’s Note: Nabila was granted anonymity upon request for the safety of her family.
Photo taken by David Goldman for the Associated Press