As part of the resettlement effort of Afghan evacuees at NH

Over the past two weeks, more than sixty Afghans have arrived in New Hampshire as part of the The rush of the Biden administration to resettle over 70,000 Afghan evacuees by February 2022. The New England International Institute is one of the organizations helping them start their lives in Manchester.

This is what the arrival looks like.

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Wednesday 8 p.m.

Sarah Niazi, an Afghan-American case specialist and interpreter at the Institute, receives alerts a few days (or even hours) before the Afghan evacuees surrendered from the American military bases in New Hampshire.

A family of seven, with a one-week-old newborn, is expected on a flight this evening.

Niazi and Megan Clark, the Institute’s Community Services Manager, drive to Manchester Airport. Niazi is holding a sign saying “Welcome” in several languages.

The family never arrives.

Clark scans his phone for updates. The family may still be stuck at a military base or may have been redirected to another resettlement agency at the last minute.

Clark says she’ll be back in a few hours for another flight.

Wednesday 10 p.m.

Sarah gibson

Megan Clark collects the luggage of the Afghan evacuees. Many families arriving have less than one bag per person.

Later that night, around ten evacuees finally arrived. They wear badges and carry plastic bags from a United Nations agency. A man leans on crutches. Another shows us an injury he received while serving in the Afghan Special Forces before fleeing. He says he is grateful that his family is here alive.

The evacuees leave the airport and go to a hotel in Manchester, where Clark offers them dinner and money.

Tonight is the first time evacuees have had their own room and bed since they fled their home in Afghanistan in August. They will stay here for a few days or weeks as Institute staff and volunteers scramble to set up apartments in Manchester.

At 11:15 p.m., Clark receives a call from the agency coordinating the relocation. Another Afghan family has arrived at the airport and must be picked up.

Thursday 1:30 p.m.

The next day, Sarah Niazi arrives at the hotel to meet the evacuees and take stock of their well-being.

Afghans who fled during the US military withdrawal and the Taliban takeover are not technically considered refugees. Their path to permanent residence remains uncertain, but for now, they are eligible for certain government services. Refugee resettlement agencies step in to help them get medical care, find a job, enroll children in school and learn English.

Today, Niazi focuses on the immediate needs of families. Some left with next to nothing; others are still trying to find lost luggage along the way.

The father of a family tells Niazi that they left too quickly to even get their children’s IDs.

“I didn’t say goodbye to my father and my mother,” he told Niazi. “I didn’t say goodbye to any of my family. All I did was take my immediate family and leave.

Niazi hands him a phone and tells him to download WhatsApp and Facebook to contact his family at home. They haven’t been in contact for over a month.

Air conditioning display in the hotel

Sarah gibson

Sarah Niazi shows evacuated families how to moderate the temperature in their hotel room. Families stay in hotels until the International Institute finds them apartments in Manchester.

Thursday, 2:50 p.m.

At the end of the corridor, a man greets us in English. He agrees to speak to NHPR under a pseudonym. Like many evacuees, he fears the Taliban will monitor US media and target his extended family back home.

Over the past three months, Sami and his family have been stranded at a US military base, sleeping on cots and sharing quarters with around 10,000 other people who had fled Afghanistan. They had no idea where their family would end up in the United States; the process is up to refugee agencies and government officials.

[Read more of NHPR’s coverage on Afghan evacuee resettlement efforts here.]

Sami learned that they were heading to New Hampshire just a few days ago.

“The first time I heard of the name [New Hampshire], I’m starting to google, ”he says. “And on the Google map, it looks like a green place.”

Sami says that when the Taliban took power in August, they obtained biometric data and other information on Afghans like him who had worked with the US military. After several days spent in hiding, he embarked on what he calls a “deadly journey” from his hometown to Kabul. On the bus ride to a safe house with his family, he wore a burqa to hide his identity.

The Taliban stopped the bus and started checking every passenger. Sami says he was sitting in the back. The Taliban were almost at his headquarters when something happened outside and they got off the bus.

“If he had hit me, he would certainly have killed me,” he said.

Now that he’s in the United States, Sami tries to keep in touch with his brother back home.

“Every day when he sends me messages he says no one feels safe. Everyone wants to have food, ”he says. “There is not enough food for everyone. “

Sami is one of thousands of Afghans who had already started applying for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) before the US withdrawal. The visa is available for Afghans who have assisted the US government, but the process slowed down during the Trump administration and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sami says he initially applied at his wife’s request. They worried about the safety and future of their children.

“I just want my kids to go to school, to learn,” he says. “This is my very big hope.”

Afghan children have had limited access to activities since arriving in the United States almost three months ago.  A few arrived in New Hampshire with donated stuffed animals and basketballs.

Thursday 4:15 p.m.

As the sun rises on the horizon, Sami’s family stand outside the hotel with other resettled Afghans. Their children eat crisps and laugh. I am asked for a soccer ball.

Sarah Niazi comes out of the hotel with a big stack of papers. She just spent the last hour teaching two cousins ​​how to use Facebook to contact their family.

“It’s been a very long day,” she smiles.

Despite the obstacles ahead, Niazi says she has a goal. Much of his family is still in hiding in Afghanistan. She telephoned government officials and the US State Department. For the moment, no word. For now, Niazi is glad there are people in Manchester that she can help.

“I couldn’t help anyone around the house,” she says. “But I am here and I am able to help them try to relocate in the best possible way.”

Until now, only a handful of Afghan families have lived in New Hampshire. Niazi says some evacuees didn’t expect anyone here to speak their language. Meeting her, they told her, makes them feel a little more at home.

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