The Sacramento Bee’s special June report, “No Safe Place,” showed that Sacramento’s Afghan refugee community – targeted for death because they helped the U.S. military – live in poverty as they struggle to break out of unskilled jobs and bug-ridden housing.
Bee reporter Stephen Magagnini and visual journalists Renée C. Byer and Jessica Koscielniak found that men and women who were doctors and engineers and diplomats in Afghanistan are mostly working in minimum wage jobs or unemployed in Sacramento. Some have been victimized by violent crime and serious accidents. Those who were translators are able to navigate their new surroundings, but others are frustrated or stymied.
Readers inundated The Bee with selfless offers of help. One offered to open her four-bedroom home to Faisal Razmal and his family, saying she wanted to pay forward the favor done to her during the recession when a stranger offered her a home. Another wanted to help with the paperwork and legal challenges faced by refugees trying to get their correct names on important documents. Readers donated thousands of dollars to support the nonprofit Veteran, Immigrant and Refugee Trauma Institute of Sacramento. Others said they would look for The Bee to report possible solutions.
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One Bee reader offered to open her four-bedroom home to refugee Faisal Razmal and his family, saying she wanted to pay forward the favor done to her during the recession when a stranger offered her a home.
This Wednesday we invite the public to join the search for solutions. The Bee is co-sponsoring the first in a series of three community events aimed at informing the public and improving the lives of Sacramento’s Afghan immigrants. The conversations will be part of The National Community and News Literacy Roundtables Project, an effort launched by the American Society of News Editors with help from the American Press Institute and The News Literacy Project. The Project is funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
We’ll have two back-to-back conversations starting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the California Museum:
▪ You will hear what it’s like to leave everything behind in Afghanistan and end up in Sacramento as a refugee. Faisal Razmal, a refugee prominently featured in our coverage, will be part of a discussion with Rawash Yar, an Afghan immigrant and UC Davis graduate who helped with translation during our reporting, and Marouf Sharifi, the author of “The Homeless Afghan,” who holds a Special Immigrant Visa like Razmal, and who has been here for one year.
▪ Experts will tackle the challenging question of how institutions can help refugees assimilate. Matt Zeller, chief executive officer of the advocacy group No One Left Behind, will join Deborah Ortiz, chief executive officer of Opening Doors, and Kirt Lewis, director of the Sacramento field office of World Relief, for that discussion.
Bring your questions or ideas to this conversation; we’ll have time for both and be out by 8 p.m. Those most engaged will have an opportunity to join two small group discussions in November and early next year.
“No Safe Place” identified several critical challenges facing Afghans here through Special Immigrant Visas, as they try to assimilate:
▪ Many refugees are housed, at least initially, in a neighborhood plagued by crime and substandard apartments.
▪ Education and other credentials that enabled them to work in highly paid jobs in Afghanistan often do not transfer to the United States without obtaining a duplicate degree here, a path most cannot afford.
▪ Differences between the way in which Afghanistan issues passports, compared with the U.S., mean many refugees have the wrong name on their U.S.-issued documents. While that is changing, it still has meant long waits to obtain the necessary documents to get jobs or go to school.
▪ Afghan women who came of age under severe restrictions from the Taliban are sometimes unable to read, drive or speak English.
Join the conversation. The event is free, but because of limited space you’ll need to get a ticket. Get details at http://nosafeplace_2016.eventbrite.com