LOCAL NEWS

Seattle area groups asking for volunteers to help arriving Afghan refugees

Aug 31, 2021, 11:05 PM | Updated: Sep 1, 2021, 10:59 am
Afghanistan, Afghan refugees...
Evacuees from Afghanistan board a flight bound for the United States. (MC2 Kaila V. Peters/U.S. Navy via AP)
(MC2 Kaila V. Peters/U.S. Navy via AP)

Local groups are stepping in to personally help out the scores of Afghan refugees arriving in Washington — but they very much are in need of volunteers.

Aneelah Afzali, executive director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network — a branch of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) — has been on the ground organizing teams of people to help with everything from picking up families at Sea-Tac, to providing temporary housing, to buying groceries and household items.

“These are people who literally just arrived, some of them, with just the clothes on their back,” she said.

MAPS is working with elected officials and local volunteer groups, such as the Afghan Health Initiative, Kits for Peace, the Salaam Cultural Museum Medical Missions, the Immigrant Women’s Community Center, and others.

Republican lawmaker explains why he wants Washington to welcome Afghan refugees

Besides all of the necessary tasks with a big move, Afzali said they are trying to add a personal touch to help people feel more at home in a brand-new country. Because Afzali herself is Afghan-American, she is able to help make sure they are being “culturally competent, religiously literate, and language appropriate.”

“We want to connect people who do speak the language — Dari and Pashto in particular — or who do have that cultural competency to be able to provide that social support, social network for these refugees,” Afzali said.

For example, she said, they are making a guide for Afghan refugees in several different languages spoken in Afghanistan, and putting together care packages with the types of food that Afghans are used to eating.

It’s a very meaningful effort for Afzali, who herself has relatives in Afghanistan who are trying to escape. Afzali said throwing herself into this work helps take her mind off her fears for her loved ones.

“It allows me to focus on what I can do to help, focus on that, and leave the rest in the hands of God, and really just pray that things really do turn out for the positive, that we can finally see some peace and stability in Afghanistan,” she said.

Afzali believes that the United States went about withdrawing in the wrong way, and as a result, left people in an incredibly dangerous situation. That’s why she wants to make sure she is doing everything within her power to help those who are fleeing for their lives.

“The trauma that [refugees] have endured and experienced is just mind-boggling. The sacrifices that they’ve made are beyond belief,” she said. “And we’ve abandoned so many in Afghanistan, the least we can do is welcome with open arms the tiny few who actually make it over here.”

A Google form is being used by groups across the state to let people sign up to help in a variety of different ways — besides the basic transportation, delivery, and housing needs listed above, people can also volunteer to provide mental health support, legal advice, translation, or tutoring. The idea is to get enough people together so that everyone can donate whatever is their personal specialty. To get the form sent to you via text message, text “ACTION” to 877-804-2954.

“These Afghan-Americans sacrificed so much — they risked their own lives, safety, and well-being, and that of their family members, to help the U.S., and at times even to save U.S. troops. … They’re heroes,” Afzali said.

MAPS and the other groups it is working with are also collecting emergency funds for housing and all of the other costs associated with resettling Afghan refugees. Visit its Launch Good page to contribute.

If you are unable to help out financially, you can still do quite a bit with the power of your words.

“Really listen to and uplift Afghan-American voices from across the nation,” Afzali requested. “Oftentimes, those are voices that are not being heard, particularly when policy decisions are being made, … and it’s really important for us to listen to those who have direct experience, who have family and loved ones on the ground in Afghanistan.”

Ross: We’re about to find out who really wants Afghan refugees in US

To that end, those wishing to become more educated on the crisis in Afghanistan can attend a town hall on Sept. 15 with MAPS and OneAmerica to hear Afghan-Americans discuss their own experiences and those of their families, some of whom are still trapped. More information on this event will become available in the coming days.

Unfortunately, large groups of refugees arriving in America can sometimes be met with xenophobic reactions. However, Afzali is hopeful that the people of Washington state can be role models of a welcoming spirit for the rest of the country.

“We really reflect the best of our values when we do welcome these families and integrate them. … What I would love to see our fellow Americans do is really live out the best of our values and help promote the kind of inclusive environment that we all want to see,” Afzali said.

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Seattle area groups asking for volunteers to help arriving Afghan refugees