“They left everything behind. How Afghan families find a new home in Miami


A logo for the Jewish Community Services South Florida Refugee Assistance Program. (Facebook)

MIAMI (Tribune News Service) – When a family of seven from war-torn Afghanistan arrived at Miami International Airport last week, volunteers were there with a sign. They had come to help the family start a new life in South Florida.

Speaking little English and having only clothes and a few personal items, they relied on Jewish Community Services volunteers to help them collect their luggage and get to a hotel for the night.

A hot halal meal – a food allowed under Islamic law – prepared by the Greater Miami Islamic Center awaited them upon their arrival.

The next day, the family members – who speak Dari and communicate through a translator – were taken to their new home in northwest Miami-Dade.

Waiting for them: an equipped kitchen, sheets and towels, toiletries and other necessities.

The family is one of many that JCS will welcome in the coming weeks in South Florida.

The faith-based organization has been approved as a resettlement agency in partnership with the non-profit immigrant assistance group HIAS. Their mission: to help Afghan refugees displaced after the United States withdrew from the country in August.

Church World Service is also a licensed agency and has already helped resettle around 200 people, according to Carlos I. Naranjo, the association’s resettlement program manager.

As of December 13, more than 74,000 Afghans had arrived in the United States as part of Operation Allies Welcome since August, according to the State Department. Almost 40,000 people have been displaced from “shelters” at military bases to communities across the country.

Miriam Singer, who heads Jewish community services, said the community had been anticipating their arrival for weeks. Organizations, synagogues and individuals across South Florida have mobilized to help refugees start new lives.

“It was a very difficult end for them and many people helped our government and were at great risk if they stayed there,” Singer said, adding that she had seen a great response. “We are a refugee community in South Florida and we are very inspired to see the broad support from the community. “

Jewish history is the history of refugees

Temple rabbi Beth Am Rachel Greengrass said helping the displaced was personal.

“This is in part because the refugee story is one that we Jews don’t just sympathize with, we sympathize with,” she said during a recent discussion on the subject at the synagogue. Pinecrest. “We relive the story of our flight from Egypt. It’s not just these ancient stories that speak to us. Throughout history, it’s a little depressing to look at Jewish history and see century after century the expulsion of Jews.

But despite adversity, she said Jews were resilient and adapted to new languages, cultures and ways of doing things.

The most recent mass immigration followed World War II.

Greengrass said his grandfather, who was from Poland, received help from HIAS.

“He was able to come to the United States and be embraced by the Jewish community, which gave him seed money, which gave him the opportunity to work,” she said. “And that’s why the Jewish community wanted to react when we learned that Afghan refugees were coming to this country … who are going to need community.”


Singer said they know most customers arrive in Miami with little.

“In most cases, they left everything behind,” she said.

Shelters will need help with almost everything: transportation, food, rent, school.

“There is a range of experiences that people will have when they arrive,” she said. “We will show them everything. “

The singer arranged for each family to have an apartment near each other so that they could help each other as well.

She’s been collecting everything for months, including sheets, towels, food and toys.

Naranjo, of Church World Service, said the biggest challenge was finding accommodation.

“The market is not affordable,” he said.

Forming pods

When Ilene Kossman, a worshiper at Temple Beth Am, saw the US withdrawal from Afghanistan unfold on the news in August, she immediately knew she wanted to help.

“We owe them the ability to have safe passage to the United States and help them rebuild their lives,” Kossman said during a recent aid discussion.

She, her husband and another couple lead a group. Another member of Temple Beth Am leads another.

The idea is for pods to be assigned to families to help them navigate life in South Florida.

Each group will divide the responsibilities among the members. Some may be responsible for helping the family enroll in school and another may be responsible for helping them find employment.

Settle in Miami

The goal, Singer said, is for Afghan families to move to Miami, their new home.

While the federal government requires resettlement agencies to provide housing and services for three months, Singer said the goal is to extend the offer for six months.

“The ultimate goal is for them to be self-sufficient,” Singer said. “It would be great if they stayed here and we can help foster an Afghan community in our amazing, diverse and multicultural South Florida world.”

How to help

▪ Identify and / or obtain low cost or free housing for the 90 day transition period.

▪ Train groups of volunteers to help Afghan refugees settle in Miami.

▪ Fundraising for household items, clothing, toiletries, medicine, transportation, and translation / interpretation services.

▪ Volunteers are needed for tasks such as airport pickup, shopping and navigation experiences, delivering food and providing rides to appointments.

▪ Help with furnishing and storing the apartment.

▪ Visit JCS Refugee Assistance Program for more information on volunteering or donating money or call 305-403-6570.

© 2021 Miami Herald.

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