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Afghan Refugees Make the DMV Their New Home

With only minutes to gather their most valuable belongings, citizens rushed to the airport in Kabul for a chance to escape on a U.S. plane. Those who made it arrived in the DMV area through the Dulles-International Airport.

Photograph courtesy of Armando Babani of Getty Images

With only minutes to gather their most valuable belongings, citizens rushed to the airport in Kabul for a chance to escape on a U.S. plane. Those who made it arrived in the DMV area through the Dulles-International Airport.

At least 65,000 Afghans have been evacuated and 30,000 more are expected to enter the country by the end of September according to the Pentagon and Homeland Security. Many refugees are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) because of their aid to the United States during the last twenty years as translators and interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq. Benefits of this status can include up to 90 days of living assistance, guidance for enrolling children in school, and even a pathway to citizenship. 

While applicants have the option to be relocated between 19 U.S. cities, families that arrive in D.C. must face some of the highest rents that the district has seen in years with the average price of a studio apartment being $1729.

Organizations that are providing relief to refugees are doing their best in positioning those in need to be self-sufficient while building their new life, but unfortunately some families will fall through the cracks. 

COVID-19 has caused renters to be set back on payments and landlords to demand higher security deposits, leaving new refugees to look to alternative housing options. With areas such as Fredericksburg, Woodbridge, and Prince George’s County being possibilities for resettlements, opportunities to help Afghan refugees may become more accessible in our own neighborhoods.

Krystn Peck, the CEO of Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, an organization helping resettle Afghan refugees by providing temporary and long term living arrangements, told NPR,

“Many of our team members who are on front lines of this response who are working in the refugee resettlement programs, they in fact have families that are in Afghanistan that are not able to get out.” 

Local families are also opening their homes to refugees free of charge or with subsidized options for rent, but this type of kindness is not uncommon for residents of the area. 

Inspired to teach their children the importance of helping those in need, Bill and Sharon Murphy made a commitment in 1981 to take in one homeless family at a time into their Brookland neighborhood home in D.C. Today Mary House owns and operates between 13 different apartment complexes and houses up to fifty families at a time. 

Specialty living situations like the ones run by the Murphy’s are preparing for what could come when the temporary living assistance ends and when families still need help gaining housing security. Sharon Murphy spoke to The Hilltop about the upcoming influx of applicants. 

“Those of us on the ground…We have to figure out a way to bring a sense of humanity into the long haul because making it here is a long haul,” Murphy said. 

Their organization prides themselves on setting up families for long-term stability and success in creating a new life in America. They even offer lawyer referrals, mental health services, and other assistance. 

While there are many ways to donate and help your local organizations respond to this crisis, specialized operations like Mary House are always accepting necessities such as paper towels, toilet paper, and other day-to-day needs. 

With a large portion of refugees being whole families, food pantries at local schools will become increasingly important in assisting in-coming students in their transition. 

“Northern Virginia is an area where we have a very wonderful Afghan community,” Jessica Estrada, director of newcomer services at Catholic Charities, told NBC Washington. 

In many counties across the DMV, schools have already returned to class, but for these Afghan students it will be the support of their new communities that will propel them. 

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