In suburban Kentucky, Afghan refugees make new living

After the grueling journeys that take them from Kabul to Qatar to cities in Europe to American military bases, Afghan families flee from their homes. Taliban get off Kentuckyin a small town very adept at receiving refugees.

Bowling Green has welcomed waves of refugees for more than four decades, starting with Cambodians in the 1980s and then Bosnians in the 1990s, plus Iraqis, Burmese, Rwandans and Congolese and others others who have helped transform the city of 72,000 people into an economically diverse and thriving place.

Wazir Khan Zadran is a tribal leader who fought 20 years ago against the Haqqani network, a powerful faction in the Taliban. Although he’s been working more with an NGO lately, he knows the Taliban will come looking for him.

Zadran says the Americans saved him and his family by picking them up in a Chinook helicopter in August and taking them to Kabul airport. After a spell at a military base in New Mexico, they are sent to Bowling Green and quickly realize that they have been blessed with a new life in America.

“We are very happy to be at Bowling Green, who has been able to have a comfortable home and send their children to school with the support of the local resettlement agency, the International Center, which was established in July,” said Zadran. year 1981.

“Also, the local community is helping us and introducing us to the culture,” adds Zadran.

Wazir Khan Zadran helps his daughter Zuleikha with her homework in Bowling Green


Zuleikha Zardan walking from school bus, near home in Bowling Green


Sanaullah Khan Zadran dressed as Superman, with siblings Zahra and Samiullah Khan


Shafiqullah Habibi pushes her children Sharifullah and Roya on a swing in Three Springs Park


His six children are learning English songs, sending “Dear Santa” letters, going to the library and eating ice cream in Baskin-Robbins.

In the aftermath of rising anti-immigrant and refugee sentiment in the Trump administration, the US government is now handling the largest refugee evacuation since Vietnam. Of the nearly 75,000 people expected to settle in the US, Bowling Green will host 350 Afghans in fiscal year 2022.

There are plenty of jobs for the new residents of Bowling Green, an agricultural and manufacturing hub perhaps best known for its Corvette sports car assembly plant. The Bosnians, who now number around 10,000 and own several companies, attest to good job prospects as the Afghan expedited work permits arrive in the coming months.

Tahir Zukic, a Bosnian from Srebrenica, who owns Taz Trucking, said: “In 2000, when I came here, I brought a few suitcases and two babies with my wife.

“It’s absolutely a great place to be, with so many opportunities and you can do what you like.”

Power lines in the middle of the street after tornado tore through town


Wazir Khan Zadran and his wife Noorina eat ice cream with their children at Baskin-Robbins


Siblings Sanaullah Khan, Mirwais Khan and Zahra Zadran eat ice cream


Samiullah Khan Zadran blows on the dandelion in his family’s garden


For those who don’t work with Americans in Afghanistan, learning the language can be the hardest part of adjusting to their new place, says Zukic. But they also have to learn how America works, how to drive, how to get credit cards. And what to do when a tornado approaches.

The events that tore through Kentucky this month have shaken Afghans’ sense of security. They are confused by the 1 a.m. whistle that reminds them of Kabul and are shocked by uprooted trees, ripped roofs and death in a neighborhood populated by immigrants.

“We had never seen a storm like this before in our lives in Afghanistan, so we felt we might be about to enter another war,” said Zadran. “But God saved us.”

‘This is my place’

Firas Majeed arrived at Bowling Green from Baghdad via Brooklyn, New York, in 2016. The Iraqi refugee was visiting a friend and decided “this is my place”. He now co-owns a grocery store with Middle Eastern and European foods after working as a welder.

“Quality of life is higher in the big cities,” says Majeed, who appreciates the big skies and verdant farms surrounding Bowling Green, a strong job market, rents and medical care. low economy.

Majeed said that the Afghans will get a lot of support because people have seen the images of the chaotic evacuation from Kabul. Iraqis can teach them things, like how to get a driver’s license.

Roya Habibi plays with donated toys in her room


Siblings Zinat, Zuleikha and Samiullah Khan Zadran write a letter to Father Christmas at the library


Zahra Zadran runs to change shoes at home


A Congolese refugee reads a bible verse in Swahili during Sunday Mass at Forest Park Baptist Church


Bowling Green is also a place that allows refugees to stay true to their identities while becoming Americans – providing a conservative social environment for raising families and practicing religion.

At Forest Park Baptist Church, Congolese refugees breathe new life into the community. Worship services and Bible studies are translated into Swahili and are sometimes held in that language.

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“We love their gospel voices,” said church leader Mike Givens, and the church translated their songs so the message could be heard.

“Our community has changed, so if we weren’t looking for or pursuing the immigrant population, our church wouldn’t exist,” he added.

Back at home Zadran, the children progress rapidly with the new culture. Elder Zuleikha teaches her siblings a song in English with the lyrics “What are you thankful for?”

As they applauded their own performance, Zuleikha declared “Done!” and flashed a big smile.

Reuters. Photography by Amira Karaoud

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/photography/kentucky-afghan-refugees-photos-b1984382.html In suburban Kentucky, Afghan refugees make new living

Tom Vazquez

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