CAIR-San Diego helps newly arrived Afghan families acclimatize to life in the United States

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Dozens of Afghans recently resettled in San Diego since the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan attended a workshop on Saturday to support their transition to life in the United States.

The event, hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations San Diego at the Islamic Center in San Diego, included a legal workshop on humanitarian parole applications – which was translated into Pashto and Dari – and information on resources career, housing and food distribution by Relief of ICNA. Over three dozen people attended.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said around 65,000 Afghans have already been evacuated from Afghanistan. Of those, about 500 families are expected to relocate to San Diego in the initial wake of the US troop withdrawal this summer.

Most refugees move to areas of the country where they have friends or family. Since San Diego already has a large Afghan community, Lawson-Remer said the county is expected to see the second highest number of Afghan refugees in California, behind Fremont.

“We are on the verge of seeing historic numbers of refugees settling in the United States, potentially the highest since the Vietnam War,” Lawson-Remer said. “We are already seeing families coming to San Diego, and thousands more are expected to come to the area in the coming months.”

Dan Castillo (right) with CAIR-San Diego records attendees at the San Diego office of the Council on US-Islamic Relations for Afghan Families at the Islamic Center in San Diego. From left to right, volunteer Fareed Mangal; newly arrived immigrants from Afghanistan, Amunllah Mushania and Ashart Momand, and volunteer Mohammad Samadi.

(Nancee E. Lewis / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Between October 2020 and September 2021, 420 Afghan refugees resettled in San Diego, most of whom arrived between July and September, according to county data. People from Afghanistan are the second largest group of new arrivals to San Diego behind the 1,257 Haitian refugees who arrived in the region during the same period.

CAIR Associate Executive Director Tazheen Nizam said events like Saturday’s help support a vulnerable population as they acclimatize to life in San Diego. Moving here can be difficult as people juggle multiple tasks like enrolling their children in school, getting up to date on vaccines, and accessing healthcare.

“The biggest challenge that members of the Afghan community face is that if they go through a resettlement agency, they have to immediately look for housing, for a job,” Nizam said.

They also need to learn their rights in various areas, especially when it comes to how to deal with Islamophobia, said Adib Mahdi, chairman of the board of CAIR San Diego.

Although CAIR San Diego has not seen a significant increase in reports of hate crimes against Muslim individuals, it said it is important for them to educate new families on what they should do if they were targeted. In some cases, Mahdi said individuals were afraid to go to the police to investigate hate crimes for fear of getting into trouble themselves.

“The underlying truth is that most of these people come from a country where you don’t go to the authorities to make your complaints,” Mahdi said. “They still take some of that trait with them here, so if something happens, they don’t consider going to the police.”

Photographers and videographers stand outside to watch a press conference

Tazheen Nisam, associate executive director of the San Diego office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, leads a press conference at an event for Afghan families at the Islamic Center in San Diego.

(Nancee E. Lewis / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Saturday’s event came weeks after the county supervisory board voted to fund the costs of resettling Afghan refugees using frozen assets from the Afghan government. The Oct. 5 vote also developed a comprehensive county response plan to support those relocated to San Diego and established an Afghan Resettlement Task Force.

During this meeting, supervisor Joel Anderson falsely referred to CAIR as an organization associated with terrorism, stating: “Any organization that has any affiliation with terrorism in the Middle East can’t be a part of this (working group) so CAIR would be left out, just want to be absolutely clear on this.

CAIR is a Muslim civil rights and civil rights organization in the United States that aims “to improve understanding of Islam, protect civil liberties, promote justice and empower American Muslims,” according to its website. CAIR is not on the list of terrorist organizations.

Doris Bittar, an organizer of the American Southern California Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said her organization had asked for Anderson’s statement to be clarified, but had not yet received an adequate response.

“Supervisor Anderson was really offensive, and he used slurs, he associated CAIR with terrorism and demanded that they not be involved in welcoming new Afghan refugees,” Bittar said. “When you say something like that in the future, it should sting. Someone should react strongly.


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