By Caleb Hampton
Since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August, tens of thousands of people have fled the country. According to Department of Homeland Security, roughly 70,000 Afghan refugees were flown to the United States. Most of them are currently being held on military bases as they wait for their immigration documents to be processed.
Among those to be resettled in the U.S. are around 250 unaccompanied minors. Several agencies have been appointed to find homes for these children in fourteen states across the country. In the Sacramento region, which has one of the largest Afghan populations in the U.S., International Christian Adoptions (ICA) is the agency responsible for placing unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan.
Last month, Hui International, a Davis-based organization that promotes the wellbeing of women and children, organized a webinar with Yolo County Head Start and ICA to share information about the process of fostering an unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan.
To become a “bridge home” or a “resource family” — also known as a foster family — prospective parents must be at least 30 years old, be able to assist with transportation or live near public transportation, have renter’s or homeowner’s insurance and pass a background check, a home health and safety visit and a family interview.
While ICA is responsible for ensuring the children are placed in safe environments, the organization said the assessment of prospective families has been expedited due to special circumstances. “We’re seeing a lot of referrals coming through for the unaccompanied minors,” said ICA program director Seandy Gonzalez. “Because of the high need we have a fast-track for certification. We can get you certified pretty quickly.”
According to the organization, most of the children it is seeking placements for are aged 15-18, though some are younger. None of them are available for adoption. In large part, the children were separated from their parents during the chaotic evacuation of Kabul and maintain close relationships with family members who remained or were left behind in Afghanistan.
“These kids still have parents,” said Lucy Roberts, the co-founder and executive director of Hui International. “The parents weren’t able to get out.”
According to ICA, the primary roles of families hosting the children is to provide a nurturing environment and reinforce independent living skills. “We hope that you consider this a long-term commitment,” Gonzalez said. “They need a home at least until they are ready to be on their own and independent.”
ICA and Hui International said they have made a special effort to reach out to the local Afghan community about the opportunity to host these children. The organizations also emphasized that anyone, regardless of their background, can be a host family as long as they can provide a loving and welcoming home.
Host families are expected to warmly accept the culture and religion of the children and to maintain their confidentiality by refraining from posting the child’s name or photo on social media platforms. Host families provide for the child’s basic needs and are reimbursed $1,050 per month.
The families will go through trainings with ICA and collaborate with their staff to provide the children with additional support. ICA is equipped with case managers, social workers, therapists, translators and legal and immigration support. “We are here to help meet the youth’s needs and help with any challenges that arise,” Gonzalez said, “so you are not alone.”
The families should expect that many of the children could be arriving with trauma from having witnessed atrocities, from recent events in Afghanistan, from their journey to the U.S. or from going through a confusing and unpredictable immigration bureaucracy. “You often don’t know their personal story,” Gonzalez said. “It comes out over time.”
Arezoo Pamiry, a program coordinator for Hui International now based in Sacramento, fled Afghanistan with her husband and two children during the U.S. airlift at the end of August. Her family went to the airport several times of the course of a week, braving dangerous crowds and gunfire, before they got onto a flight. When they did, Pamiry’s mother and sister were prevented from joining them.
During the evacuation, Pamiry saw other families who were similarly separated. “I saw parents outside the airport crying and saying their kids were inside and they couldn’t get in,” Pamiry told The Enterprise. “Those kids are facing really bad trauma right now. It’s hard for their parents, too.”
In addition to placing unaccompanied minors with foster families, ICA is also seeking host families for young adults aged 18-24. To host a young adult, families are expected to provide a room for free or at a reduced rate with no expectation that the guest compensate them through household chores or other work. “We expect that they be treated as guests,” Gonzalez said, “that they feel comfortable and welcome.”
More information about becoming a host family for Afghan refugees is available at https://instituteforchildrensaid.org/refugee-foster-care/.