Afghans who helped US troops relocate to Rochester
For five years, as a seemingly endless war continued to ravage his country, Noor Sediqi worked as a translator to assist US troops in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.
Some days Sediqi would translate at meetings. Other days the stakes were higher when he went on a mission with the US military.
In June, as the end of the war finally dawned, Sediqi, 34, was evacuated from Afghanistan on a special immigrant visa (SIV), along with his wife and children. They are now relocating to Rochester, but her parents and six younger siblings are in Kabul.
The move – and this separation from loved ones – has been difficult for everyone, he said.
âCulturally, everything (here) was, is, difficult for us,â Sediqi said. âMy children would get up in the middle of the night and call my parents, my brothers. “
Sediqi is one of the many Afghans who helped American troops in Afghanistan and now make Rochester their new home, but although they have managed to escape Taliban persecution, their future here is in limbo.
Since his arrival, Congress passed two bills At the end of July, this broadened the eligibility of SIV applicants and helped streamline the evacuation process.
While this is good news for advocates like Ellen Smith, she said it had come way too late and left out another key aspect of the equation: relocation.
âIt’s just a challenge for these families to house them,â said Smith, executive director of Keeping Our Promise, an organization that works with allies in wartime. âI don’t know how we’re going to handle this. “
The housing market in Rochester is hot with low inventory and high demand. Today, some houses are sold for more than double the price of a decade ago, but the social benefits to which SIVs and refugees, who would pay for housing, are entitled to have not been adjusted during this same period. period.
In New York state, a family of four could receive a maximum of $ 931 in temporary help to cover rent, and so has been for at least 15 years according to a Monroe County spokesperson.
This temporary assistance covered less than 50% of housing costs in 2020, up from 75% in 1996, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank that analyzes federal and state tax issues.
Lisa Hoyt, director of refugee and immigration services at the Catholic Family Center, the Rochester area’s leading resettlement agency, said housing issues are universal across the country.
âRight now everyone is facing the same problem, both lack of housing and affordability,â she said.
Despite this, Hoyt is more optimistic than Smith that the Afghans who arrive will have a place to live.
âWe can find what we consider to be clean, affordable, safe in the sense that the house is lead free. Howeverâ¦ the neighborhood might not be as safe as you would like, âHoyt said.
âDo I think there are accommodations there? Yes. Do I think the people who come will want to stay in these places? Probably not, âshe said.
Housing is only the first and most immediate obstacle for Afghans who manage to evacuate.
Walid Habibi, who arrived in the United States in February with his father, is still adapting.
âI think relocation is a complicated process,â Habibi said. “It’s not easy. It’s not just apartments, a house, furniture, it’s not just that.
Adapting to the culture, getting help with paperwork and having access to mental and emotional support services are just as important, Habibi said.
âOur (American) veterans are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq on nine-month tours,â Smith said. “I have guys (Afghans) with four to six years of combat experience and I know that takes their toll on them.”
On top of all this, Habibi said that access to higher education is a major obstacle.
Habibi already has a master’s degree in political science from Kateb University in Kabul, but he’s not sure if that will matter here.
âDegrees don’t transfer easily – not just in New York State, but in general, and I don’t think there are enough resources at these institutions and colleges (to do that),â said Hoyt.
A State University of New York school would be an obvious choice, but he and Sediqi would have to wait until next year before they can apply as New Yorkers.
This waiting period is something states like California and Colorado have eliminated by amending state laws to waive the residency requirement for refugees and SIVs.
Making that happen here would help both people like Sediqi and Habibi and the local economy thrive, Smith said.
âWe deal with civil engineers and accountants, people who have experience in the trades and it’s really important to try to recognize the skills that these families bring,â Smith said.
Despite the obstacles, Sediqi said he was grateful to have made Rochester his home. But he can’t rest until he can ensure the rest of his family are safe.
âI always think of them,â Sediqi said. “What’s going to happen to my family there?” I survived, my children survived, but what about the others?
The fear is even more palpable now that the Taliban have said they will no longer allow Afghans to reach Kabul airport to evacuate.