Volunteer group welcoming Afghan refugees to Manhattan in coming months

Fatima Jaghoori, senior in health and nutrition, international studies and gerontology, also volunteers for MART. (Archive photo by Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

With Afghan refugees set to arrive in Manhattan in the coming months, the volunteers of the Manhattan Afghan Resettlement Team are working to give them a home in the community.

Christian Watkins, director and campus pastor of the Ecumenical Campus Ministry, also volunteers at MART. She said MART is distinct among groups working to help refugees.

“We’ve discovered that we’re fairly unique because MART is totally volunteer-run,” Watkins said. “We’re not an organization in the sort of formalized sense.”

Watkins said MART works with Catholic Charities of Kansas and the Kansas Office of Refugees to help resettle Afghans in Manhattan. She also said that as a Manhattan-based group, MART plans to prepare Afghans to settle in the community for life.

“Resettlement is a lifelong process,” Watkins said. “So we’re not just thinking about when folks arrive in Manhattan, but how to create institutions and systems around their families and folks from Afghanistan and, hopefully, the refugees in the community so that they can have what they need to thrive and not just survive.”

Watkins said two Afghan families have arrived since the United States withdrew from Afghanistan. Some other families resettled in Manhattan before the withdrawal. However, there is uncertainty as to how many refugees will come to Manhattan.

“We’re expecting around 100 people, but sometimes that number changes,” Watkins said. “For example, we thought we’d get two or three families and then discovered that those families would be in Houston because they found a closer family member.”

She said the uncertainty comes from how the U.S. government decides where refugees will go.

“With the process of resettlement, the way that the United States government is going about it is to find people’s closest familiar contact and make sure that they have some kind of network in the community,” Watkins said.

Watkins said not knowing how many people to expect creates challenges for MART. She said the group receives a notice about seven to 10 days before people arrive in Manhattan.

“We’re trying to prepare for 30 folks to arrive in the next couple of months, but again, that may change,” Watkins said. “We might get 50 people. We might get 20 people. Unfortunately, it’s challenging in that sense for us because having some solid answers would be lovely, but that’s not how the process has unfolded.”

Fatima Jaghoori, senior in health and nutrition, international studies and gerontology, also volunteers for MART. She said she is proud of the Manhattan community’s response to the situation.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such compassion and such drive from a community that is willing to help complete strangers,” Jaghoori said. “My heart is with the Afghan people who have to resettle, but goodness gracious, I am so proud of my community for opening their arms to people from Afghanistan.”

Watkins said MART started after it became evident Afghan refugees would need a place to resettle.

“We basically started gathering people once the United States military left Afghanistan and have been putting things in place since then,” Watkins said.

Jaghoori said the people coming from Afghanistan are friends of the U.S.

“These are our allies. These are people who are escaping persecution,” Jaghoori said. “The person that you’re thanking for Veterans Day, this was their interpreter, and this is the person who kept them safe.”

Watkins said MART is working to be mindful of Afghan culture when they welcome people to Manhattan.

“One of the things we’ve come across is when we’re decorating a house preparing for a family, I might assume as someone who’s grown up in Kansas that someone would want a couch and a television, but perhaps that isn’t what is normal for folks from Afghanistan,” Watkins said.

She also said that it helps to support Afghans as they enter our community.

“That’s just an example of being sensitive and patient and welcoming to people who may not have the same sensibilities or cultural norms, but we can still find ways to be supportive of each other,” Watkins said.

Megan Gates, junior in English, said the fact volunteers in the community are doing this work is positive. However, she said the community as a whole should help welcome the Afghan people to Manhattan.

“I think just trying to be welcoming and being kind because they’re probably going through a lot, so just trying to help them find places to eat, see if they need any help with anything of getting around or finding places to work,” Gates said. “Stuff like that just to make their life a little bit easier.”

In all, Jaghoori said her community overjoys her.

“I am so beyond impressed and amazed, really, at the amount of love and the amount of support that the community of Manhattan is giving,” Jaghoori said.

More information about the Manhattan Afghan Resettlement Team and a place for donations are on the team’s website at allieswelcome.com. Updates about MART are on its Facebook page.