As the hours whittled down towards midnight on August 31, 2021, the desperation to get out of Afghanistan was palpable. In accordance with a US government declaration, all US troops would be evacuated from the country by the end of the month. With the US troop withdrawal, the most vulnerable Afghans were now those who assisted the United States during their time in the country. Knowing the Taliban would once again rule the region, these US allies understood they had a target on their back, making it imperative that they leave the country or face a certain death.
Images from that day are haunting as desperate Afghans crowded the airport in Kabul, hoping to get onto a plane out of their homeland, even if it meant not knowing where they would go or how they would survive.
Houston Afghan Refugees Arrive in Record Numbers
Such is the tale for dozens of Houston Afghan refugees who are resettling as part of the US government’s efforts to assist. One such family is the Subhani family. Father Mirwais worked for the US Embassy in Kabul for five years and made it clear that such a position put he and his family at risk of retailiation from the Taliban. Subhani was granted a SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) due to his service to our country.
The SIV program coordinates the dispersion of the families throughout cities across the United States. From there, resettlement agencies make sure basic needs of food and housing are met as they begin to assimilate into their community. It is important to note that the costs associated with the government’s involvement are ultimately absorbed by the refugee family itself, through a loan program set up with the government. According to the Houston Area Resettlement Fund (HARF) “the (humanitarian parole) designation prevents evacuees from receiving the same benefits that would be granted to a traditional refugee, such as Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance.” Additional resettlement funds beyond the meager amount designated by the government all come from private funding and donations. Evacuee families need everything, from the most basic needs such as food and shelter, to counseling for trauma.
Inclusive Community Support
The Houston Afghan refugees are further assisted by organizations such as Amaanah Refugee Services. The Subhani family arrived with Mirwais, his wife and their four children. Adjusting to life as new Americans in Houston requires language skills, doctor visits, school registration and job placement assistance, all services that Amaanah is there to help navigate. They fill in the gaps and ease the transition to life in Houston. Many program recipients go on to mentor and help with resettlement for new families, as well.
The Subhani children are registered in Houston schools, receiving tutoring services and language lessons. The opportunity for a good education is one of the things that their father is grateful for. Amaanah’s Teach 360 program garnered a contract with HISD (Houston Independent School District) for the 2021 school year to help bridge the learning gap that many refugee children face. Tutors work closely with the elementary students to ensure their language skills are developing and other core studies are on pace. Older children can participate in mentoring programs, with the potential to earn academic scholarships for higher education from Amaanah. Young adults interested in soccer can participate in the Amaanah Lions Soccer Club, a championship team comprised wholly of refugees and immigrants.
The family, like other Houston Afghan refugee families will be part of the Amaanah community for as long as they need assistance. With a mission to provide Houston Afghan refugees the opportunity for social equity and economic prosperity, the support of these families is ultimately supporting the rich tapestry of cultures in Houston. It is expected that families will continue to arrive in Houston through December of 2021. Watch Mirwais Subhani’s personal story featured on FOX-26 Houston.