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A year since the Taliban takeover, Kansas City has become home to 760 Afghan refugees

A man wearing a baseball cap, black shirt and white apron cuts meat on a white butcher's table.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Mohammad Aman Wak, 64, trims beef at Pak Halal International Grocery in Lenexa. Aman Wak used to be a colonel in the Afghan army before he resettled in Kansas City following the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan.

Hundreds of refugees have found housing, jobs and new lives in Kansas City since the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan. But many remain separated from their family members, and are struggling with an uncertain future here.

Mohammad Aman Wak slices away thin strips of fat from a chunk of beef he’s trimming with a sharp blade. Barrel-chested with thick forearms, the 64-year-old banters good naturedly with two other aproned Afghan refugees, all tending the butcher shop at Pak Halal International Grocery in Lenexa, Kansas.

Aman Wak arrived here in late 2021. A former colonel in Afghanistan's army, he joined the first wave of refugees fleeing the country after the United States withdrew its military last year.

“Living in a new country with a different culture and a different people, everything that we do here, everything is new for us,” he says through an interpreter. “We are starting a new life. It is not easy now, but we are getting used to everything slowly.”

Monday, Aug. 15 marks one year since the Taliban began its takeover of Kabul. Since then, 760 Afghan refugees have made their way to Kansas City, attempting to find jobs, learn English and navigate a new way of life.

Aman Wak says everything is going well so far — he was able to bring all of his family with him to Kansas City.

“I’m not going back,” he says. “Our country faced a lot of destruction, crisis, everything. We grew up under those conditions. Being here, we’re not experiencing those things anymore.”

Like most Afghans refugees who’ve arrived in the United States, Aman Wak holds only temporary humanitarian status. Aman Wak and others can only gain permanent legal status through the asylum system or a Special Immigrant Visa process.

However, both of those avenues are backlogged, and the approval process is complicated.

Hillary Singer, executive director of Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), says that Afghan resettlement had been her agency’s central focus for the past year. They've found either permanent or temporary living arrangements for 383 Afghans.

“Most of them, in about a six-week period,” she says. “It has been a flurry of activities to ramp up our systems.”

081222_cm_AfghanRefugees
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Sabawoon Faqiri works at Jewish Vocational Services as a career pathways case manager for refugees from all around the world. Faquiri came to Kansas City in November 2021 in the first wave of refugees from Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul.

Singer says these new Kansas Citians are trying to leave the chaos and fear from the Taliban takeover behind them.

“Folks are in their homes, they’re working. Their kids are going to school, dealing with whatever issues they are having,” Singer says. “Our focus has really shifted to, ‘How do we continue to support folks to integrate more fully into life in the United States?’”

Singer says the first step for new residents is learning English and digital literacy. She’s seeing people get jobs, but because of the language barrier, it’s not necessarily the work they did when they were in Afghanistan.

Sabawoon Faqiry, who’s studied English since 5th grade, had it easier than most. The 22-year-old arrived in Kansas City in November 2021, and found a job first as a resettlement case manager at JVS, and then as a career pathways case manager.

“New community. New people. New language. New county,” he says. “At first I thought it will be very difficult for me to arrange myself in such a situation in life here.”

Faqiry credits the agencies like JVS and Della Lamb with helping his fellow Afghans integrate into the country.

“When they came from Afghanistan, their hopes were like dry soil,” Faqiry says. “In the USA, they put water in this dry soil and their hopes are growing up.”

Faqiry’s parents, sisters and his wife remain in Afghanistan – they were not permitted to board an aircraft out of the country. Faqiry says his family left Kabul, and are struggling to survive.

“For now I have to deal with this situation,” he says. “Even a small opportunity. I want my family here with me.”

Faqiry says he is pinning their future on the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and five other senators that would create a path for Afghan refugees to apply for permanent legal residency.

But that legislation still has to pass through both branches of Congress.

Still, Faqiry remains optimistic about his future in the Midwest.

“Now my hopes are tied to here, to Kansas City,” Faqiry says. “I feel I can achieve my dreams here in Kansas City."

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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