How Maine is welcoming Afghan refugees

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops in August triggered a massive humanitarian crisis in the country as thousands of Afghans fled. Now Maine is one of many states welcoming some of the 50,000 Afghan refugees expected to be resettled in the United States. Charles Mugabe, who is a refugee himself and now a counselor with Catholic Charities joins to discuss the issues the most recent refugees are facing.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In August, the world's attention refocused on Afghanistan as the Taliban suddenly took control of the capital city of Kabul and the US-backed government fell.

    In the chaotic last days of the US presence in the country, nearly 130,000 people were airlifted from there, including more than 50,000 Afghans who will be resettled in the united states.

    As many as 100 of those Afghan refugees are now arriving in Maine. I spoke with Charles Mugabe, a counselor with the non-profit organization Catholic Charities here in Portland, about what the most recent refugees are facing and about his own experiences.

    What are the kind of first things that you're working on and what's on the to do list for them?

  • Charles Mugabe:

    So our very first to do is to pick them up from the airport. You know, bring winter clothes if they have a relative here already we go with the relatives with interpreters and they feel more welcome because they see familiar faces. And they see people that they know and they feel already at home. Right after the airport, we take them to a place of their own, give them orientation of where they're staying. You know, this is the appliances, how to use this, how to use that, and help them start integrating the same night. The next thing is to ensure they have documentations right that they would need to start work, documentations they would need for schools, right? They complete vaccines record as needed. We make sure they have access to public benefits.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What are some of the challenges that they're facing right now, given that they are leaving in such a traumatic way?

  • Charles Mugabe:

    Oh, so I would say some of the major challenges for most of them is the fact that they left others behind because most of them still have extended families, if not immediate families. And so the worry is whether they'll be able to see some of the immediate families who are in Afghanistan soon or if they would even be able to to see them at all, given that they're worried about what's happening there. Yeah.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So this is an emotionally difficult time for them.

  • Charles Mugabe:

    It is.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    On the one hand, they're probably happy that they're out of danger. And then, on the other hand, their relatives are still in danger.

  • Charles Mugabe:

    It is. It is, and they are extremely grateful for being here. As somebody who was a refugee myself, I know what that means for it to be able to have a fresh start, to feel secure, to feel safe.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Is that why you're doing this work, that this was personal for you?

  • Charles Mugabe:

    When we came to the United States as refugees, it was difficult. You're coming into a new community, new culture, new language. Almost everything was brand new. But I was very much inspired by the work the resettlement agencies are doing. And that's one of the reasons why I was very committed and decided to look for opportunity to do the same for all the others who will be coming because I know they will need help.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So tell me what it was like to flee. What were you running from? What did you do to escape?

  • Charles Mugabe:

    So I am from Democratic Republic of Congo, and that's in Africa. There were a lot of killings, a lot of violence, a lot of abuse, lots of rape for women. I was total war, total kills and we had to flee. The process of fleeing was very ugly. Uh, you know, we had to walk. There wasn't any car coming to pick people up, so we had to walk, flee through the bushes until we reached the neighboring country, where we felt a little bit safe and sought asylum there.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    When you saw what was happening in Afghanistan a couple of months ago, what went through your mind?

  • Charles Mugabe:

    What came to mind was that the world will have to prepare to support the victims that will fall under the war in the conflict in Afghanistan.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mr. Mugabe, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Charles Mugabe:

    Thank you for having us.

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