ATLANTA — Moeen Amini lived in constant fear.
He worked as an interpreter for the US military in his home province of Paktika in Afghanistan.
With the growing terror of the Taliban, Amini was in danger every time he left home.
“For those who worked for the US government and the US military in Afghanistan, it is very difficult and almost impossible for them to live and survive in Afghanistan,” Amini said.
Before the United States prepared to withdraw its last group of troops from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, the Taliban had already taken control of most of the country and many Afghan residents were flocking to Kabul airport, desperate to escape.
But by the time Amini and her family arrived in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul in mid-August, the Taliban had already taken control of the city. Amini described it as a “real horror movie” as people died trying to enter the airport.
“We really lost hope of living,” Amini said. “We faced many Taliban checkpoints. I can’t explain how difficult it was to deal with these people. You know, 100 people who have guns and stuff and stop us and say, ‘Who are you, where are you going? and why are you leaving the country? Are you supporters of the US military, is that the reason why you are leaving the country? »
Amini and her family also feared that their documents indicating employment in the United States would make them targets as they sought refuge.
“We really didn’t know what we should do, like should we throw away the documents so we don’t have an ID,” Amini recalls “… If you throw it away, how (are we) going to get to the airport, how to prove ourselves that we have been working for the army for years and if you don’t start it, we face threats because people will kill us or harm us.
After days of sleeping at the airport, Amini, his wife, two young children and two teenage nephews whose parents were left behind in the crowds rushing to the airport, boarded a plane . Ten other family members boarded the overcrowded plane to safety, he said.
Fortunately, Amini and her family’s ties to the US government allowed her to be among more than 120,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan by the United States; Americans, those on special immigrant visas, and Afghans who were employed by the U.S. government and their direct family members were priority evacuees. Nearly 80,000 evacuees were Afghans.
In December, Amini and her family finally resettled in the Clarkston area of metro Atlanta, known for its large Afghan and immigrant population.
He immediately started looking for work now that he was responsible for caring for nearly 15 family members and was the only English speaker.
“I started working with a construction contractor (as an assistant). and he paid me by the day, sometimes it was $80 or sometimes $100 and it was two months for me and my family and that’s how I started here,” Amini explained. “I tried all the different stores, different restaurants near me, different gas stations near me, and even told them I could work for you for any hourly wage you provided me, but no one was willing to hire me.
For those who have moved to the United States since August of last year, it is still a work in progress as language barriers are common for most, and the jobs and education they once had in Afghanistan are often not compatible.
Inspiritus is the designated resettlement agency for Alabama, and is also a lead agency in Tennessee and Georgia; Georgia is also a top southern state for Afghan resettlement, primarily in the Atlanta and Savannah areas.
Aimee Zangandou, executive director of refugee and immigrant services for Inspiritus, said that although the goal of finding permanent housing has been achieved for its Afghan clients, the organization is now focusing on the “long welcome”, which which includes making them work.
More than 1,700 Afghans have resettled to Georgia and nearly 70 to Alabama since August 2021. At least 70% of adult Afghans resettled in Alabama and Georgia (primarily Birmingham) are working, although most positions are entry-level , said Zangandou.
“The others, we’re working with them to get them the first job in the United States and part of the next strategy is to try to help them get back to the careers they had in Afghanistan, which is going to take a long time. , but we are focused on moving upmarket and professional certifications,” Zangandou said. “We have people (who) were like pilots, lawyers, doctors, engineers, journalists — those things take time. and they can’t really fully come back in those areas.”
Many have found jobs in hospitality, hotels or manufacturing jobs, with some earning as little as $12 an hour and a few as high as $33 an hour, Zangandou said.
“Most of them are entry-level jobs and that’s what we’re focusing on, getting their credentials certified and trying to assess them to see if they can get better jobs or upgrade,” he said. she declared. “It’s their first job in the United States and it won’t be your ideal job. It won’t make as much money and you probably won’t like your job, but it’s only the first job in the US, so we’re working on upgrading them and something more sustainable.
Inspiritus, like other resettlement groups, helps provide training services to get jobs and provide certificates. Zangandou recalled that the group recently paired a former Afghan pilot with a mentor in Savannah for training to gain certification to work in aviation.
As early as May, Amini said he was proud to have landed a job as a recruiter for an Atlanta-based consulting firm.
“I’m satisfied… when I arrived here, I didn’t give up hope. I didn’t give up, I started working with general labor and finding an opportunity for me now I’m a recruiter here,” Amini said. “Like the Afghan people, they tried to work anywhere in general labor and now they have opportunities. and now they have people in organizations trying to find opportunities for them and trying to reach out to them to give them the best opportunity.
Amini credits the U.S. government, resettlement agencies, nonprofits, and volunteers with supporting refugees like her family until self-sufficiency is achieved.
Organizations still expect to receive and help more Afghans in the coming months, although this period should be less chaotic than last year.
In 2021, during the mass evacuation from Afghanistan, U.S. resettlement agencies were tasked with ramping up operations after many had downsized and cut staff and resources in previous years.
“All of these organizations had to really scramble to get ready to receive the Afghan refugees because under the Trump administration, the number of refugees who were resettled in the United States dropped dramatically and a lot of these affiliated agencies had to lay off people. staff because there were no refugees were coming in, so now they have to prepare again and that has been a challenge,” Lynda Wilson, president of the Alabama Interfaith Refugee Partnership, said in September 2021.
Zangandou said the sudden influx of Afghan refugees forced Inspiritus to increase its capacity by more than 200%.
“This has never happened in the history of resettlement,” she said. “We had to hire very, very quickly, train people very quickly. It wasn’t perfect, but we’re very proud of what we did and the response that was given.
Hogai Nassery launched the “Afghan American Alliance of Georgia” page on Facebook to garner community support for Afghan evacuees in August last year, and has since established it as a non-profit organization.
The group has consistently provided furniture, clothing, toys, household utensils and other donated items to nearly 90 families in the Atlanta area. But as the need for physical items decreases as most families are fully settled in homes, language barriers also present challenges in accessing health care and other services, Nassery said.
“We’ve put a lot of energy into trying to find English as a second language resources for them, but a lot of what’s out there in our area is already full,” Nassery said. “There’s a limited capacity now because they have so many people signed up because, you know, it was a huge influx of people coming in at the same time. It wasn’t a trickle.
For more information on how to help Afghan families in Georgia through the Afghan American Alliance of Georgia, visit the website at www.afghanamericanallianceofga.org.
So far, many Afghans who have been allowed to enter the United States have been granted temporary humanitarian living conditions. Now comes the journey of seeking permanent residency, usually through an asylum application, which is a long and costly process, sometimes taking up to four years.
“It’s a very complicated process that takes time and resources, money to go through the process and it’s really, really slow,” Zangandou said.
Inspiritus and other resettlement groups have been advocating for Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would provide a pathway to permanent residency bypassing the asylum process for those who evacuated Afghanistan because of its fall into the hands of the Taliban.