Local community, businesses in the Bay Area band together to aid Afghan refugees

The San Francisco bay area has the largest Afghan population in the US, making it an obvious place to resettle Afghan refugees. But it also has one of the country’s most expensive and competitive housing markets. Special correspondent Mike Cerre speaks to new arrivals and those helping them make the transition to life in the US, as part of our ongoing series, ‘Chasing the Dream: Poverty, Opportunity and Justice in America.’

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The San Francisco bay area has America's largest Afghan population, making it an obvious place to resettle Afghan refugees. But it also has one of the country's tightest and most expensive housing markets.

    NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Mike Cerre reports on the newest refugees, and those helping them make the transition to life in the United States. This story is part of our ongoing series—'Chasing the Dream: Poverty, Opportunity and Justice in America.'

  • Mike Cerre:

    Looking out over California's Silicon Valley, the Fazili family could have landed on another planet since leaving Afghanistan.

  • Sarah Fazili:

    And when we received in the United States and especially in California, we are so happy because we are safe.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Just a few months ago, the Fazilis were caught in the Afghanistan evacuation nightmare. They recorded this video during a Taliban shootout at their apartment building which killed a neighbor and spent three days of terror outside the Kabul Airport waiting for a flight out, and sheltering their young daughters from the gunfire in a drainage ditch.

    The Fazilis' first two months in the U.S. were spent in a military holding camp at Fort Bliss, Texas living in a tent. Until they completed their visa applications and vaccinations and were finally allowed to travel to the San Francisco Bay Area to resettle. The Bay Area has the country's largest Afghan population. It's also one of the country's most expensive and tightest housing markets.

  • Madeena Siddiqui:

    I cannot let my Afghan people just be on the street. I was helping in a week about five, six families, now that's increasing by the double, and that's going to increase as well.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Madeena Siddiqui, a first-generation Afghan American and volunteer for the local Afghan Coalition, was able to get the Fazilis a hotel room for their first night and an Airbnb apartment in Hayward, CA just south of Oakland for the next thirty days, until they can find long-term housing.

  • Ayisha Irfan:

    Nationally, Airbnb.org is committing to temporarily house 20,000 Afghan refugees as they look for longer-term options to permanently resettle in the United States.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Ayisha Irfan oversees Airbnb.org's humanitarian grants. She is one of the first calls the resettlement agencies make for new arrivals, like the Fazilis, often with less than a few days advance notice of their arrivals with no place to stay.

  • Ayisha Irfan:

    Over 6,600 hosts globally have committed to this cause of offering their homes to Afghan newcomers.

  • Aisha Wahab:

    Wherever you place an Afghan in the United States, they're going to want to travel to an Afghan hub. These hubs are the Bay Area, potentially L.A., Seattle, D.C. Virginia area and New York City.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Hayward Councilwoman Aisha Wahab is the country's first Afghan American woman elected to public office. She knows firsthand the challenges the local Afghan community has faced since they first started migrating here in the '80s and '90s after the Soviet occupation and Afghan Civil War. People like store owner Freshta Khwaja.

  • Freshta Khwaja:

    We try to make them as comfortable as possible because we went through the same thing. They should be very, very lucky that we are here and helping them. But forty five years before, none of this was available.

  • Aisha Wahab:

    When it comes to being able to translate or interpret or explain cultural nuances and really engage with the new arrivals, the Afghan American community that grew up here in the Bay Area would be able to help step up significantly.

  • Laila Mir:

    When the whole Afghan crisis happened, all Afghans, my family and I, we were pretty devastated. We were trying to do everything we could to help.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Laila Mir, a former accountant and financial advisor, is now cooking and delivering each week nearly a hundred home-cooked Afghan meals for the refugees, with help from Shef, a regional online food service specializing in ethnic cuisines.

  • Laila Mir, Shef:

    Preparing a meal and giving back is also a part of my family and culture. I think Afghans we love to feed will feed complete strangers. If we know there's somebody in our community. We will make sure there's food on their table.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Each meal comes with a note.

  • Laila Mir:

    Dear fellow Afghans, peace and blessings be upon you. Welcome to the United States. I hope that you enjoy this food.

  • Mike Cerre:

    As to be expected, the larger local Muslim community is playing a major role in raising money, clothing donations and other services for the new Afghan arrivals. Aminah Abdullah heads up the Muslim Community Center in Pleasanton working together with other local mosques.

  • Aminah Abdullah:

    I think it stems from our faith, our duty to serve and take care of those in need and the Afghan crisis just gave us an opportunity for us to do what we are supposed to do.

  • Mike Cerre:

    So too are the other mostly faith-based resettlement agencies like the local Jewish Family Services in Oakland.

  • Aisha Wahab:

    It does not surprise me because I think faith-based communities have always stepped up and their number one key principle, regardless of religion, is humanity. I will say that the Jewish community has stepped up probably the most. But they have historically stepped up for Afghans. Even the Afghan Coalition was founded by a grant of $10,000 by one of the Jewish organizations.

  • Fundraiser:

    Is there one generous person who will commit to $15,000, inshallah, for our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan?

  • Mike Cerre:

    Afghan refugee fundraisers like this one at a local Afghan banquet hall are also raising funds for their Afghan relatives still wanting to leave and trying to survive the Afghan winter, now that fuel and food imports have been cut along with foreign aid.

  • Aisha Wahab:

    And why should we help these new arrivals? Because they served the United States military. They were promised that if you serve the United States military, with the risk of death in Afghanistan, you would be able to come to the United States.

  • Sarah Fazili:

    We want to leave Afghanistan and we don't have any intention about where we want to go and when or which city of America. Just we want to leave Afghanistan because the situation is so bad.

  • Mike Cerre:

    How important is it to have the Afghan community around you? Do you feel a bit more at home because there are people from your culture living close by?

  • Sarah Fazili:

    I'm Afghan, I love Afghan people and I'm so happy which I am in this place and I'm near my Afghan people.

  • Mike Cerre:

    The local Marine Corps Reserve unit's annual "Toys for Tots" campaign has added Afghan refugees to their holiday list of needy families this year. The city of Fremont's Mayor Lily Mei and Afghan American volunteers like Mena Adida led the $10,000 toy shopping spree.

  • Mena Adida:

    This will be the ultimate surprise for them. They're struggling to get basic necessities and this will be a huge treat for them and their families.

  • Mike Cerre:

    Especially for families like the Fazilis this holiday season, having recently arrived in the U.S. with no other possessions than the clothes they were wearing.

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