Afghan evacuees resettling in Black Mountain, more families still to come

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
An Army Soldier oversees Afghan evacuees arriving at the airport at Volk Field Air National Guard Base, Wis. Aug. 22, 2021. Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin was used as a processing site for Afghan refugees before they are resettled around the country.

The Black Mountain community has begun helping two Afghan refugee families resettle as more evacuees enter Asheville and the surrounding areas. 

Following the arrival of more than 40 Afghan refugees this fall, Asheville began receiving nearly 100 more the night of Jan. 11, according to officials with Lutheran Services Carolinas, which is administering the newest relocation. The refugees comprise people who fled fearing reprisals from the Taliban government.

Of the combined 140 already in Asheville and those set to arrive, many are single men, but there are also women and families. Nearly 50 are children.

"We know that most of the people that were evacuated are connected to the U.S. military or non-governmental organizations," said Bedrija Jazic, Lutheran Services New Americans Program director. "They had to flee because they became targeted by the Taliban. They are definitely our allies and friends."

Of the 41 already in the area, a little less than 20 have been resettled to Black Mountain.

Unlike many of the refugees in Asheville, who've been separated from their families, the groups in Black Mountain have been able to more or less remain together, according to Noele Aabye, the refugee resettlement case coordinator for Catholic Charities. These refugees were able to evacuate Afghanistan together and stay connected as they resettle in Black Mountain. 

The names and identities of the refugees are being withheld for safety reasons. According to Liz Chandler, the communications director for Catholic Charities, the families could become targets, even in the U.S.

"We've actually heard of examples where so-and so's brother is in the news so they go after his family in Afghanistan," Chandler said. "We're just trying to protect as best we can." 

Taliban fighters stand guard at a police station gate in Ghasabha area in Qala-e-Now, Badghis province on October 14, 2021.

Catholic Charities, based in Charlotte, partnered with the St. James Episcopal and Black Mountain Presbyterian churches to help support the needs of the refugees, in particular, one large family of 13. This support includes temporary housing, basic necessities such as food and laundry and access to transportation. 

"We're helping them meet those needs themselves," Aabye said. "They're getting transportation to their English classes, they're getting transportation to Friday prayers at the Islamic Center of Asheville." 

An aspect of the partnership with Catholic Charities included a safety training with interpretation, allowing the refugees to learn the U.S. rules of the road.

Aabye said the community has been generous and welcoming to the refugees, donating bicycles to meet local transportation needs. She said the various groups are also currently working to enroll the children in school. 

Along with the two churches, Catholic Charities is working to find long-term housing solutions for the large families, provided Black Mountain is where they want to resettle.

"I feel optimistic that we're going to find the right fit for them," Aabye said. 

While the refugees wait to get approval for food access documents, St. James Episcopal has worked with Black Mountain Presbyterian to feed the families. Judith Whelchal, a rector at St. James, said donations of gift cards to Walmart, Ingles and other grocery stores have been helpful. 

Whelchal said the partnership between the two churches has been an additional positive byproduct of the refugees' arrival. 

"It's sort of broken down the tribalism of denominations," Whelchal said. "Now we're working on our youth working together." 

Whelchal said the groups have been providing transportation for the refugees to the Islamic Center, allowing for more crossover between the religions. 

"I also don't want us to forget that we have all kinds of neighbors that we don't connect with," Whelchal said. 

In terms of resettlement, Aabye said as the case coordinator, her goal is for the refugees to become self-sufficient once they've had a chance to learn and acquire the skills they need to live and work in a new country. Primarily, she said, a priority is for the refugees to learn English. 

Whelchal said the families she's worked with are work-ready and possess all the necessary documents to begin. She said the ones who are able are anxious to start working. 

"They're very much interested in jumping in and being productive and working alongside other community members," Aabye agreed.  

Want to help?

Those wanting to help newly arriving refugees with housing can contact Laura Collins at LCollins@lscarolinas.net.

To volunteer with newly arriving refugees or to donate goods, contact Amy Dix at adix@lscarolinas.net.

To do job mentoring or help with vehicles or other needs of already settled refugees, email wrorefugeedonations@ccdoc.org.

Asheville Citizen Times reporter Joel Burgess contributed to this story.