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Between arrival and employment, this funding helps Afghan refugees make CNY home

Katie Zilcosky

It took Omer Farooq only days to flee Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. But then it took months of moving around to start a new life.

“So we were deported from Afghanistan to Qatar. And then from Qatar to Germany. We spent 15 days in Germany. And then from Germany, Dulles [airport], Virginia. And then from there to New Jersey. So I spent almost like five months in New Jersey Fort Dix air base.”

After the six-month trek, Farooq landed in Syracuse with his wife and sister in law.

“It was like the worst journey, ever, I’ve ever had in my life because we lost our home. We lost my car. I lost my money. I lost everything, whatever I had. I lost just everything. I had nothing in my pocket. Nothing. This was just like the biggest change in just one night in my life,” Farook said.

Omer Farook's journey from Kabul to Syracuse
Omer Farook shares what it was like to try and leave Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the government last summer and how Interfaith Works brought him to Syracuse.

As New York's leaders say they're ready to welcome Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian invasion, Afghan refugees who've come to the area following the withdraw of American troops from the country and subsequent Taliban takeover of Kabul are still trying to finalize paperwork, find a job, and make Central New York their home.

Resettlement groups in the region are expecting to support around 500 refugees from Afghanistan. Syracuse non-profit Interfaith Works is one of the agencies helping refugees start their lives here. Director and CEO Beth Broadway said Afghans like Farooq are arriving with basically nothing.

"Their bank accounts have been frozen. They left with nothing, just what they could carry in a backpack. They often were toldto destroy their documents, meaning their transcripts, their work documents…” Brodway said. “The way that they would verify to employers that they have the skills. So they’re starting life over again. It’s like they’re a clean slate.”

Farooq did set fire to his documents to cover his tracks as he was leaving Afghanistan. Broadway says that move kept him safe, but it’s now making his job search process difficult.

Farooq kept hold of a few documents, like his passport, but he destroyed his university degree and other credentials that would help him find employment.

“That means that he doesn’t have documents that show that he was a professor at a University in Kabul where he taught cyber security,” Broadway said.

And Farooq’s job search has been challenging. He said he’s gotten many interviews and responses from potential employers, but the opportunity ends up falling apart.

“I haven’t slept the last two nights. Just because working on my CV, applying for a job, sharing your experience, getting interview, and then nothing. So I just like, I spend all my day and night focusing on applying on a job. And then I get nothing,” Farook said.

The U.S. government gives refugees $1,200 when they arrive to cover their first month of expenses, but there isn’t much of a safety net after that.

But Broadway says a recent gift from the Central New York Community Foundation will help fill what gaps exist in refugee’s new lives

“If you’re going to do job searches, you’re going to go to the library for a while but eventually you have to have a telephone where people can call you back. So, if you don’t have enough money we can help with that. Maybe you got a job where you need to have steel-toed boots. Those are expensive, so we can use the Community foundation money to get certain items of clothing for people.”

Broadway adds that funds can also be used to purchase gift cards to grocery stores and to help with transportation needs.
The $65,000 gift is a larger-than-typical grant awarded by the CNY Community Foundation. Director of grants Danielle Johnson said she hopes their funding inspire others to also help those new to our community.

“[We’re] Definitely looking to see other members of our community step up. We believe that all members of our community should have access to basic human needs, and that’s exactly what the Afghan Unmet Needs Fund does for people who have really been through extraordinary circumstances.”

The goal for Interfaith Works is to get their clients a job within six monthsof their arrival in Syracuse, but this funding is designed to support Afghan refugees during the time in between.

You can contribute to Interfaith Works efforts on their website.

Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.