Will the state of Hawaii be assigned to take in Afghanistan Refugees?

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON) — Tens of thousands of Afghanistan refugees left their home country and are being placed in the United States.

But some have wondered: Will Hawaii receive any of these refugees, and what opportunities can the state provide to them after leaving Afghanistan?

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Terrina Wong works with the Pacific Gateway Center to help immigrants that get assigned to the state of Hawaii. Pacific Gateway Center is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower immigrants, refugees and low-income in building skills.

Wong said they have always been in contact with the state about potentially receiving Afghanistan refugees. 

“When we were advised of the evacuation, there was a meeting nationally, and we were told that Afghan refugees or parolees would be assigned to refugee resettlement agencies throughout the United States,” Wong explained. 

Wong said the state would have had to agree to be able to receive and financially support a minimum of 100 Afghanistan parolees, along with having access to agencies across multiple sights.

“So, naturally that automatically eliminated Hawaii,” Wong added. “We weren’t eligible at all when the call went out for refugee resettlement of Afghan refugees.”

Jovanie Dela Cruz with the Office of Community Services for the state of Hawaii said they have programs that help refugees by getting funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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Dela Cruz said, ultimately, the only way to receive Afghanistan refugees in the state of Hawaii is completely under federal jurisdiction.

“If the federal government assigns them to Hawaii, then we would be ready to serve them,” said Dela Cruz. “We have programs — small right now — in funding because, historically speaking, we have small placement.”

Dela Cruz added that if the need arises soon, they can go to the federal government and ask for more funding to help support future refugees from Afghanistan. He also said, after looking at Hawaii’s history regarding accepting immigrants, families from the Middle East are not usually assigned to Hawaii.

“We have had one Iraqi family, we have had no Afghan family and no Syrian family,” explained Wong. “But that does not mean that Afghans do not come.”

Since 2005, Wong said she cannot recall having an Afghanistan family assigned to Hawaii. However, that does not mean there are no Afghanistan families here at all, but instead, they just did not get assigned here when they first came to the U.S.

Aria Ahrary falls into this category. Ahrary said her family left Afghanistan when she was around 5-years-old and was first assigned to the mainland. They later moved to Hawaii later in her adolescent life. 

“When I first moved to Hawaii there was like eight or nine Afghan families,” Ahrary said.

Ahrary added she cannot even think of an Afghanistan restaurant on Oahu. She said this may play a part in why Hawaii hasn’t been assigned any Afghanistan refugees yet.

“It is almost close to zero from middle east,” said Dela Cruz. “What the clients that we serve are southeast Asian.”

Dela Cruz said usually the government will assign refugees to areas they know they will be comfortable and productive in.

“You know the assignments are based a lot upon what resources are available within the community that would provide that safety net and would really help facilitate resettlement,” said Wong. 

Wong said she is referring to things like having mosques, Afghanistan supermarkets and other local resources that she believes Hawaii does not have a lot of. However, if Hawaii does get assigned to take in a family from Afghanistan, Wong said they will do everything to ensure they are comfortable, safe and happy.

“Here we don’t understand and say you should have done this or you should have done that, but over there they are just in fear of these people and the past and the videos, and they don’t forget the past,” said Ahrary. 

Ahrary said it was a hard adjustment for her family after leaving Afghanistan. But she said, thankfully, the agency that overlooked their case made sure they had what they needed to be successful. She said she remembers everything being extremely organized down to the day.

“We secure all of their documents and make sure, medically, they are sound,” Wong said. “We greet them at the airport and make sure their first meal is culturally appropriate.”

Wong said it is a very detailed process for every refugee who gets assigned to the state of Hawaii. The goal is, within the first 90 days, the refugee will be able to sustain employment and if that does not happen, then the refugee could apply for a different program called the match grant program aimed to help employability within 180 days from arrival.

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“Things change politically and the population that we serve — but we do serve everyone — but the focus may change from Syrians to Afghanistan’s. Nevertheless, whatever the political state may be, Hawaii is a welcoming state for immigrants,” said Dela Cruz. 

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