In the summer of 2021, when the United States withdrew its military forces from Afghanistan, Kabul erupted into chaos as many desperate Afghans sought to escape the Taliban and flee to safety.
Ghulam Mohmand followed news from around the world in Seattle, feeling heartbroken and helpless as he watched the shocking scenes from his home country and listened to reports from his family and friends still living in Afghanistan. Mohmand, a Pathfinder customer service manager at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan seven years ago.
In the following months, more than 120,000 people will be evacuated from Afghanistan, their lives endangered because of their affiliation with the United States during a two-decade-long war. The United States has taken in many of these refugees, relying on resettlement agencies, nonprofit groups, and passionate volunteers like Mohmand, who has spearheaded multiple efforts to support refugee resettlement in Seattle.
Circles of care
With many Afghan refugees waiting on US military bases until overwhelmed agencies can get them to communities across the country, the State Department has begun a pilot program in October 2021 for private citizens to form “sponsorship circles” to provide initial resettlement assistance to Afghans upon arrival and build a new life.
A sponsorship circle consists of five people dedicated to the well-being of a refugee family, who must raise at least $2,275 for each sponsored person to replace the money usually provided by the federal government. The group helps the family find accommodation and obtain basic necessities; complete the relevant documents; connect to the Services; translate information; help find a job; and providing community orientation, friendship and moral support.
Through a contact at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, Mohmand connected with the Seattle group Viets for Afghansto form the nation’s first Sponsor Circle, bringing his nephew and his family from Fort Dix, New Jersey to the Seattle area to be closer to Mohmand.
In addition to this already busy schedule and family responsibilities, Mohmand devotes more time to helping Afghan families already settled in Seattle. He prepares Afghan dishes at home for several families and calls newly resettled families on the phone and talks to them in their native language.
“I ask them how they feel and if everything is okay. Just being there makes a huge difference. The most rewarding thing for me is that I feel like I’m doing something productive,” he said. “These people need help. They are my brothers and sisters and I am happy to be able to do something, but I would like to be able to do more. Helping others is always the best feeling one can have.
For the past five years, he has also served on the Afghan American Cultural Association (AACA) Board of Trustees, helping Afghan newcomers before the refugee crisis with driving lessons, cultural awareness in the United States, job search, and cultural activities.
A welcoming harbor
Mohmand has attracted interest from port colleagues and executives willing to help. As a member of the port employee resource group, VOICE (The Voice of Immigrants Committed to Equity), he initiates a monthly meeting for port employees to provide updates on Afghan refugee resettlement and the situation present in Afghanistan.
The Port of Seattle strives to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone. This includes making SEA airport as welcoming as possible, as one of the first spaces refugees see in America. The Port’s recent efforts to support Afghan refugees have included partnering with current tenants and nonprofit partners to create dedicated, private hospitality and workspace. It is a place where nonprofits can connect with arriving Afghans, grab refreshments and pick up supplies donated by SEA shops and restaurants, and allow refugee resettlers to meet arrivals directly. at the gate after security – instead of picking yourself up in the busy baggage claim area. the Airport Jobs The office also strives to provide job search assistance and translation, connecting Afghan refugees to jobs at the airport.
Mohmand is encouraged by the bonds he has forged with others who want to support Afghan resettlement efforts.
“Sometimes you think humanity is dead, but when this crisis happened I saw all these people coming together,” he said. “It gives me hope that humanity is still here.”
Some of his strongest partnerships have been with members of Viets for Afghans, finding connections through their parallel experiences.
As Mina Le watched the Afghan crisis unfold on the news, the scenes of desperation and violence seemed all too familiar. In April 1975, after the withdrawal of the last American military from Vietnam, the first wave of Vietnamese refugees arrived on American soil without any status or access to resources. Le and his family of 11 were among the refugees fleeing persecution in Vietnam. Like Afghan refugees, Le’s family waited at the US military base to be resettled in the United States. Almost 40 years later, she is still in touch with her sponsor family who helped her family navigate life in a new country.
“We formed a really strong bond,” she said. “After the situation in Afghanistan, I wanted to look at the sponsorship program and pay it with other families to help them the same way we were helped.”
Le is a member of Viets for Afghans, which began in August 2021 as a thread between a group of five friends with the goal of connecting 75 Vietnamese families with 75 Afghan refugee families for temporary housing. The group exceeded its target and referred more than 80 volunteers to local resettlement agencies to move on to the next steps. The action-oriented text channel quickly transformed into a volunteer-led coalition.
Today, Le is one of four Vietnamese women leading the group’s support efforts. The is responsible for organizing all sponsorship circles and, with the support of Mohmand and other community members, has sponsored six families to date and is in the process of sponsoring four more.
“It’s amazing to be able to help,” she says. “You watch the news and you feel helpless and angry about the situation. There are 70,000 refugees arriving in the United States and that is an overwhelming number. Our motto is to focus on one family at a time.
With resettlement agencies overwhelmed, sponsorship circles have been able to make a huge difference in the lives of refugees and in the lives of sponsors.
“I feel so privileged to be able to support a family. Every person who has joined a Sponsorship Circle has found it to be a life-changing event. You end up with complete strangers, and huddle together to help find housing, employment, instead of a relocation agency. You meet families, fall in love with children and learn about Afghan culture. It enriched my life. »
The Sponsor Circles pilot program will end in weeks as Afghan refugees leave US military bases, but Le and Mohmand aren’t done supporting refugee families. Their friend, Ismail Khan, and Le recently formed the Afghans of Puget Sound Alliance (APSA) to provide long-term assistance to refugee families who have fallen through the cracks of the system. Mohmand assists APSA as Director of Outreach.
“We have a humanitarian crisis all around us; we just don’t know,” The said. “We need to stabilize these families first and in the long term we want to see how we can empower and strengthen the Afghan community through civic education, advocacy and educational programs such as driving lessons for women. to enable them to participate more fully in society. ”
The hopes to share lessons learned in supporting and developing the Vietnamese refugee community over the years.
“We want to form an organization that not only looks at immediate needs, but also focuses on the next 10 to 20 years to imagine what a healthy community looks like,” she said.
To be involved
Although the Sponsor Circles program is coming to an end, Mohmand said the community can help Afghan refugees in many ways, whether through donations or volunteering. Support can include driving refugees to a park, taking them shopping, giving them rides, teaching them English, or giving money or gift cards.