In August of 2021, the US Armed Forces pulled their troops from Afghanistan which led to the Taliban taking over the country. This led to hundreds of thousands of Afghans and their families trying to flee their home country mainly due to safety reasons. Southern California continues to welcome refugees, but are we doing enough for them?
Refugees from Afghanistan continue to arrive in Southern California, but unaffordable rents are complicating the process of resettlement as they pursue a better life and hopefully join friends and family already here.
As stated on Ca.gov, “The State of California welcomes Afghan newcomers as they resettle and integrate into Californian communities. These resources are intended to help Afghan families build bridges to their new homes and communities across the state.”
This statement was written in regards to the government programs and resources that are being provided to the incoming Afghan refugees. This includes assistance with translation, housing, legal assistance, federal benefits, etc. Although these resources are available, the government funding for these programs falls short. The federal government gives refugee resettlement agencies a minimum one-time payment of $1,025 to spend on each refugee, adult, or child. It is common for Afghan families to consist of several children that need multiple bedrooms, those funds are quickly eaten up by the first month’s rent and a security deposit. Anything leftover is given to the refugees to spend on household essentials. Challenges lay ahead for these households, and this doesn’t even include the Afghan evacuees who make it to the U.S. and seek asylum but will not have access to the same funds and programming as special visa holders.
Organizations like HIAS are one of many that seek to help Afghan refugees get settled in. HIAS is a nonpartisan, refugee protection organization that is helping to assist Afghan refugees through the Sponsor Circles program from the federal government. After personally helping with translating for an Afghan family who had only been in the states for weeks, I learned that although this country indeed offers many resources to help these families, I can’t help but wonder if they are being given enough budget for all their needs. The mother that I helped translate for was a 29-year-old mother of 3 young ones all under the age of 7. Her concerns were basic ones like needing the proper cookware to be able to cook traditional Afghan dishes. The family was given a budget that made it a little difficult to be able to pick out the proper cookware that was needed.
Another local refugee resettlement agency that received numerous Afghan families has placed them in hotels around Los Angeles County because it’s been difficult to quickly find housing that falls within the tight budgets assigned to refugee households. Many landlords have raised their rents to cover losses during the pandemic. Some landlords are also requiring proof of income and established credit history that refugees lack.
Many of these agencies are now asking the public to temporarily open their homes for free or at reduced rent if they live in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, or Riverside counties. This will buy time for staff to find long-term housing for the refugees. The International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles is also readying for refugees by seeking donations and volunteers. Los Angeles residents are being encouraged to offer temporary housing through Airbnb, which is offering to cover stays for 20,000 refugees around the country through contributions from its CEO and to its charities.
Irvine’s mayor, and other elected leaders from Los Angeles and West Hollywood, have signed a letter calling on President Joe Biden to give entry to 125,000 Afghan refugees. Andrew Do, the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, took to Instagram and posted a picture of his letter to President Joe Biden, urging him and his administration to take immediate action to help support the safe resettlement of Afghan refugees.
Many sources show proof of mayors and leading officials of other counties being proactive about helping the Afghan refugees, but what about the mayor of San Bernardino county? Mayor John Valdivia has yet to make any type of decision or statement regarding the assistance of Afghan refugees. San Bernardino is the largest county in the United States. With a county that big I would assume that the mayor would take some type of initiative and proactive effort in assisting with the refugee crisis, but I have yet to see it.