Amidst the chaos entailing in Afghanistan, here is a story of hope!
A humanitarian crisis in the form of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan has set the entire world into turmoil. Horrifying visuals of people trying to desperately leave the country and the attack at Kabul airport that killed 200 civilians and 13 U.S troops has rendered the world speechless.
Hossein Mahrammi and his wife, Razia Mahrami, refugees living in the US recall painful memories and what this means for their family and friends back home to NPR. The couple and their four boys, ages 2 to 12 then, arrived from Kabul in March 2017 to Washington, D.C.
Mahrammi is a trained economist who worked with the U.S government in Kabul for more than a decade and received a Special Immigrant Visa. The family is Hazara Shiite, a minority ethnic group that’s been highly targeted by the Taliban, adding to the safety risks that came along with the work that he did.
Fast forward 4 years, the family is now doing well, embracing a new way of life. But new challenges arise in the form of Taliban entering Kabul has once again disrupted their normal course of life.
“We know our families are hunkering down,” and that gives the couple some peace of mind, he says.
“I am worried about the thousands and thousands of those who worked hard in the last 20 years for a better future,” says Mahrammi, “but in return, they get the darkest, the most unexpected and unwanted situation.”
What went down?
President Biden announced that U.S. and NATO ally troops would leave Afghanistan by Aug. 31 and the withdrawal proceeded, after a long 20 years.
The Taliban regained control of the entire country on Aug.15, after only a few weeks of fighting and when former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
“It’s 10:30 in the morning, and I’ve had five phone calls already with my brothers and my father,” says Mahrammi. “We don’t have any income, no job. Nothing,” his relatives tell him. Mahrammi tries to give them hope, “I’m still here for you,” he reassures them.
The hardships of the resettlement process
In the following months of their arrival, his wife questioned their decision to flee their country, “Why did we come here? Life is so difficult,” she remembers. Razia Mahrami’s English was limited, she missed her family, money was tight and their future uncertain. Now she is studying for a business degree at a local college, and she has learned to drive, and even the boys are thriving.
The job search was a struggle for Mahrammi, after humbling himself down enough to drive an uber but even that required being able to buy a car.
“I was struggling,” Mahrammi says, “nobody has enough cash, and I didn’t have a credit [history,]” it took him many months to finally secure a loan with the help of a co-signer, an Afghan friend with a solid credit history who came to the U.S. years before Mahrammi did, he says.
“The resettlement process could be better,” Mahrammi says even though he is grateful for the federal assistance the family got for several months of rent, the help enrolling the children in schools and guidance to get their social security cards, but his family at times felt lost, he says.
How to make it better?
The U.S. government has contracts with nine NGOs to resettle refugees and their mandate is primarily, to house refugees and enrol kids in school. But some agencies also provide other help, like food or clothing, as well.
Mahrammi says that he’d welcome a financial literacy workshop and even a class about American cultural norms would be helpful.
“In Afghanistan, it’s very important that you don’t look at someone’s wife, don’t talk to people you don’t know,” Mahrammi says, “but here, you’re expected to say ‘good morning’ to strangers, regardless of gender, when you enter an elevator or a building or at the park.” Small talk is part of American culture, not so much in Afghanistan, he says.
Although the challenges the family has overcome is nothing, Mahrammi insists, compared to what people in Afghanistan go through.
“Walking my kids to school and knowing that they are getting a world-class education,” is a great feeling, Mahrammi says. He also mentions that the family has medical insurance now. Plus, “I’m not worried that my wife walks outside by herself,” he says. “From the very bottom of my heart, I feel relaxed and blessed and happy.”
After years of juggling multiple jobs, Mahrammi is now a technical advisor for a local nonprofit, Enterprise Development Group, that provides microloans to low-income individuals.
The SIV visa the family came on automatically turned into a green card, allowing each member of the family to become a lawful U.S. permanent resident after arriving in the U.S. When the family hits their fifth-year residency anniversary in March 2022, they will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
It can be very daunting and disorienting to resettle in a new country as it forces people to begin from the ground up, they say. And they offer advice to the newly arrived refugees from their experience.
“Be flexible, be open-minded, take risks,” Mahrammi says. He cautions new refugees to lower their expectations, “It doesn’t matter the type of work you do, just work hard and keep going,” he says. “This is the land of opportunity.”
The couple is even helping organize volunteers and donations for the thousands of refugees arriving at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
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