When he fled Afghanistan last year with his parents and siblings, Shakib Qadri had no clear plans for the future.
And that uncertainty didn’t suddenly disappear upon arriving in the United States.
“In my mind, I was like, ‘What if there is no one to meet us, to help us? What are we going to do?’ I was a little scared for my family,” he said.
But looking back now, Qadri added, it’s clear that it all served a purpose: it made him much more fit for what he does today.
One of the few new YWCA Tulsa case managers who came to Tulsa as refugees, Qadri now works on behalf of other refugees. And a year after the American withdrawal and the mass evacuations of his country, the timing could not have been better.
With their immediate basic needs taken care of, the Afghan refugees in Tulsa are entering an equally difficult new phase of life in their new home. Among the concerns they now face are job support, transportation, language classes and becoming permanent residents of the United States.
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To help, YWCA Tulsa, the official provider of refugee support services for the eastern half of Oklahoma, has expanded staff in its Immigrant and Refugee Services division and recently opened a new location south of Tulsa, 1323 E. 71st St. in the Riverbridge Office Park.
“This is an area where we know many refugee and immigrant families call home,” said Julie Davis, CEO of YWCA Tulsa.
“We know transportation can be a huge limitation for families receiving YWCA resources, so we look forward to providing greater access to our services by being closer.”
The Tulsa area has received more than 870 of the 1,800 state-allocated Afghan refugees, and the YWCA is working with all of them, Davis said.
Services provided include case management, job placement and support, interpretation and translation, English lessons and other general support services.
The staff increase included 14 new employees, including a new refugee program manager, a transportation coordinator, 10 social workers and two permanent interpreters.
Qadri, 23, started in June. He has become more comfortable in his new role as his English has improved, he said.
And the fact that he had an experience similar to theirs helps him gain the trust of customers.
‘Peace of mind’
For most Afghans, the next step toward permanent residency is to apply for asylum, which allows anyone forced to flee a country for fear of persecution to legally stay in the United States.
So far, nationally, asylum applications for Afghans are being approved at a rate of 95%.
In Tulsa, under the supervision of the Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services Program, 69 attorneys have been recruited for the project and, to date, have donated nearly 1,200 hours of legal work.
Between them, Afghan evacuees from Tulsa represent 220 asylum claims, and the goal is to file all claims by mid-2023.
“It’s a pretty daunting task,” said Tulsa attorney Kojo Asamoa-Caesar, who is leading the pro bono effort.
“But this is such a vital and urgent need, and I’m thrilled to see the Tulsa legal community stepping up in such a big way.”
Each refugee family is assigned a pro bono attorney to begin the process of filing a claim.
Within 45 days of filing, an interview is scheduled in Fort Smith, Arkansas, with an asylum officer from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office. The result is usually received within 150 days.
With asylum comes “a peace of mind,” Asamoa-Caesar said. Now on the legal path to permanent residency, “they can build their new lives and pursue their lasting dreams here in Tulsa.”
‘My biggest dream’
No one knows better how to flee evil than Qadri, who is currently awaiting news of his own asylum application.
His father worked for a US-based organization in Afghanistan, he said, which made the whole family a likely target of retaliation from the Taliban.
For weeks after the takeover, the family – including Qadri and his eight siblings – moved on, staying with different relatives and trying to hide.
Eventually it worked out for them to leave from Kabul airport.
“We left everything behind,” Qadri said. “But when you fear for your family, you don’t care about your property. Just take care of your family.
Qadri, who was in his fourth year of medical school when he left Afghanistan, said he hopes to resume his studies here soon. One day he would like to be a doctor and run a free hospital for those in need.
“It’s my biggest dream,” he said.
For now, however, Qadri is happy to help other refugees set goals and achieve their own dreams.
He tries to be “motivational”, he said.
“Every time I meet with my clients, I tell them, ‘Work hard. Everyone is nice here, but you have to be independent. Just do your job. Do your best, as much as you can.
YWCA hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information on services or to make an appointment, call 918-858-2345. For more information on the asylum process, contact Asamoa-Caesar at 918-508-7184.