Afghan allies from war on terror struggle to find the American dream

The State Department offers Special Immigrant Visas to Afghans who risked their lives translating and providing other services to U.S. and allied forces during the war on terror. Sacramento's ethnic diversity and mild climate have made it a magnet
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The State Department offers Special Immigrant Visas to Afghans who risked their lives translating and providing other services to U.S. and allied forces during the war on terror. Sacramento's ethnic diversity and mild climate have made it a magnet
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Afghan Refugees

How you can help Sacramento’s Afghan refugees who served U.S. in war

By Stephen Magagnini

smagagnini@sacbee.com

June 30, 2016 05:41 PM

Hundreds of readers have reached out to try and help Afghan refugees struggling to adjust to life in Sacramento since The Bee published its special report, No Safe Place, on Sunday.

The project chronicled the hardships faced by Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders and their families who have been resettled in Sacramento County. These SIVs were moved to the front of the immigration line because they worked for the U.S. armed forces during the war and faced the danger of being killed by the Taliban for doing so. More than 2,000 SIVs and their families now live in Sacramento County, more than any other county in California.

Armed with high-level credentials, they have found little but minimum wage work. Many have been placed in cockroach and bedbug-infested apartments in relatively high crime neighborhoods. Some have been the victims of violence.

They include Faisal Razmal, an interpreter who kept U.S. troops alive but was shot in the face with a flare gun in the parking lot of his Sacramento apartment complex. He is now blind in one eye, his optic nerve severed. One of Razmal’s neighbors is Malalai Rafi, whose husband was hit by a car and killed as he rode a bike with his sons just weeks after arriving in the United States. Illiterate and unable to drive, Rafi was left alone with four children, one of them severely head-injured in the accident.

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Some readers have called and emailed with offers of new furniture, jobs, bicycles, toys, places to live and cash. Others have offered to provide tutoring, transportation and help in accessing legal and health services. Some wish to provide food, support and friendship.

Here are some ways to help:

Refugee Integration & Health Azimuth, at www.rihla.us. Provides mental health counseling and other assistance to new refugees. Used to be called VIRTIS – the Veteran, Immigrant and Refugee Trauma Institute of Sacramento, and was run by Dr. Fahim Pirzada until he was hired by the state Department of Refugee Health. Dr. Ali Alazzawi, an Iraqi refugee, is the new CEO and can be reached at dr.alazzawi@virtis-ptsd.org or 916-459-0693. Dr. Malikah Popal, an Afghan doctor from Kabul, is the new president and can be reached at dr.popal@virtis-ptsd.org.or Dr.malikapopal@gmail.com.

Needs: Money and volunteers

Matt Zeller, a former Army intelligence officer whose life was saved by his Afghan translator, has started a charity nonprofit called No One Left Behind. Contact them online at http://nooneleft.org/ or email Jason Gorey, at jason@nooneleft.org. The group works with Afghan families to ensure they have at least three months’ rent, furnishing, an inexpensive car and access to job and language training.

Zeller is based in Washington, D.C., but in September plans to open a Sacramento branch in partnership with an existing Sacramento nonprofit, Community Alliance For Refugees, which can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/Community-Alliance-for-Refugees-936184966463479/ or via email at CommunityAlliance@yahoo.com.

“We believe they deserve to have a good life here and try to live their dreams and peacefully coexist with everybody,” said Community Alliance Director Jon Ursino. “SIVs make good employees.”

He said children in the Afghan community need new bikes and soccer balls. Families need help setting up utilities and bank accounts, and registering children in school.

Residents who wish to work as ESL tutors can go to http://www.saclibrary.org/Services/Adult-Learning/Adult-Literacy. Contact Casandra Issaka and Sabrina Rosengren at literacy@saclibrary.org or call 916-264-5094.

The state suggests those who wish to help should contact local refugee resettlement agencies charged by the U.S. State Department with resettling Afghan newcomers. The nonprofit agencies generally need volunteers who can provide transportation and donations to hire staff experienced in helping refugees get health care and find housing. The four resettlement agencies working in Sacramento include World Relief, Opening Doors, International Rescue Committee and Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services.

The agencies can use new car seats, bike helmets for children and adults, clean storage units, new mattresses, bus passes and gift cards, said Deborah Ortiz of Opening Doors, http://www.openingdoorsinc.org/volunteer-with-refugees.php. “Please caution donors against donating used goods they wouldn’t use in their own homes,” she said. Opening Doors can be reached at 916-492-2591.

World Relief, which has resettled thousands of refugees, can be reached at www.worldrelief.org, www.facebook.com/worldrelief or by calling (916) 978-2650. World Relief also partners with several churches to assist Afghan refugees, said Church Mobilization Program Manager Joy Justus, 916-581-0225, who works with “good neighbor teams” that help welcome refugees.

Contacts include Bret Widman, pastor of River Life Covenant Church, at bretwidman@riverlife.org and Mark Shetler, pastor at River City Christian church (formerly First Covenant), at mshetler@rivercitychristian.org or 916-599-8422. Other churches working with the refugees include City of Grace, Bayside and Bridgeway.

Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services can be reached at http://www.sacramentofoodbank.org/refugee-resettlement/. This is the agency that worked with Malalai Rafi and her family. Their refugee coordinator is Rocio Gonzalez, 916-313-7604.

The International Rescue Committee has resettled hundreds of Afghan SIVs, including several families profiled in the project. IRC can be reached https://www.rescue.org/united-states/sacramento-ca or by calling 916-482-0120.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini