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'Being a Hazara is a crime': Afghanistan refugees seek asylum as Phoenix aids relocation

The U.S. government is currently handling over a million asylum cases, and hundreds more are being submitted every day, according to the American immigration council. Numerous private and public organizations in the Phoenix area are assisting refugees. People from Afghanistan who have escaped Taliban rule since the fall of the Afghan government in 2021. 

Arizona State University student Zahara Kainat is a refugee from Afghanistan who came to Arizona in July 2022. After arriving, she applied for asylum in the U.S.

“Unlike refugees we do not have any benefits to use but there were lots of friends that had their emotional support to help me and my family to feel home here,” Kainat said. 

Kainat said she became an asylum seeker when the Taliban took over Afghanistan over two years ago. They do not let the Afghan women obtain higher education, which is why Zahara pushed to come to Arizona. 

According to the International Rescue Committee, American refugees may be relocated to a city where they have family or friends, or where there is an established population that speaks their native tongue or adheres to their cultural traditions. The cost of living and a community's capacity to offer medical services are other factors.

The city of Phoenix is responding to this refugee differently. Teleia Galaviz, public information officer serving the Neighborhood Services, Human services and Planning & Development departments, said Phoenix is “proud to welcome refugees as new city residents.”

Galaviz said the city is focusing on successfully integrating refugees into the urban lifestyle. “The City of Phoenix benefits greatly when refugees and immigrants resettle in our neighborhoods,” Galaviz said. “They bring the strength of diversity, expand our economy and contribute greatly to civic and community life.”

Galaviz also said refugees volunteer, promote community development and engage in neighborhood events. 

ASU student Afshin Abidi, an Afghan refugee, says that violence and human rights abuses, ethnic and religious conflict, become reasons she was not able to stay in her home country. 

“Being a Hazara is a crime in Afghanistan,” Abidi said. “Taliban killed many Hazara people before taking over my county and even after coming to Kabul Afghanistan.” There are many reasons for individuals to leave their homeland. For many, it’s the opportunity to gain education. 

The International Rescue Committee, which works across the nation to settle refugees, is one of the top groups assisting refugees in Phoenix. Melanie Reyes, senior manager for community engagement advocacy at IRC, said the committee is helping not only Afghan refugees but all who are moving to Phoenix. 

In the fiscal year 2022, the Arizona branch of the IRC reached out to a total 1,736 individuals seeking refuge and safety. Among these, 518 were refugees, 34 held Special Immigrant Visas , and 1,184 were Afghan Humanitarian Parolees. 

IRC assisted refugee Guldista Iqbal in settling in Phoenix. Iqbal escaped the Taliban and received  a full scholarship at ASU in 2021. “I wanted to be a businesswoman but, Taliban took that right from me,” she said. “There are a lot of girls who have had dreams to be something in the future but they cannot do anything, but I am fortunate enough that I got this scholarship and I can work on my dream to come true.” 

Karmin Dawood, Employment Specialist at IRC, is working with the local government. “There are many organizations and people who are donating their money to help refugees and we are getting some from them,” Dawood said. 

Likewise, Galaviz said a total of $7.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds have been designated for refugee and immigrant services. The City of Phoenix’s Office of Refugee and Immigrant Support funds a variety of programs to assist refugees. These include but are not limited to case management services, rent and utility assistance, legal assistance, transportation and medical or dental services.

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