Immigrants welcome Afghan refugees, inspired by own journeys

Dec 27, 2021, 9:39 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2021, 7:59 am

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Tram Pham tears up recalling how tough life was at first in the U.S. But she also remembers the joy she felt as a 22-year-old refugee from Vietnam when a nurse spoke to her in her native language and guided her through a medical screening required of new arrivals.

Nearly three decades later, Pham hopes to pay that comfort forward as a registered nurse at the same San Jose, California, clinic that treated her family. The TB and Refugee Clinic at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is screening people from Afghanistan who began seeking asylum in the U.S. after American troops withdrew from the country in August.

Pham can’t speak Farsi or Pashto. But she can soothe patients stressed out over the job they can’t find or the rent that’s due. The other day, she held the hand of an older Afghan woman as she cried out her fears.

“I can see patients from all over the world come in. I see, you know, Vietnamese patients. I see a lot of refugee patients,” she said. “I see myself.”

The TB and Refugee Clinic joins a vast network of charities and government organizations tasked with carrying out President Joe Biden’s plan to relocate nearly 100,000 people from Afghanistan by September 2022. Nearly 48,000 Afghans have already moved off U.S. military bases and settled in new communities, the U.S. Department of State said in an email, including more than 4,000 in California.

The operation has been hampered by the need to scale up quickly after steep cutbacks to refugee programs under President Donald Trump. But the community response has been overwhelming and enthusiastic, said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of nine national resettlement agencies.

“We know that resettlement isn’t a weekslong or monthslong process. Success requires years of effort. And so that’s where it’s really important to have strong community ties,” Vignarajah said.

The nonprofit, which operates in at least two dozen states, has resettled roughly 6,000 newly arrived Afghans since summer, including 1,400 in northern Virginia, 350 in Texas, 275 in Washington and Oregon and 25 in Fargo, North Dakota.

The state of Oklahoma has received about half of the 1,800 people it was told to expect, said Carly Akard, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City. Akard said that in their rush to escape, many of the refugees arrived without identification.

“They fled and didn’t have anything,” she said.

In San Jose, the clinic is scrambling to hire more people and reallocate staff for the more than 800 people expected in the county through September. Not only is the number a large increase from the 100 people the clinic assessed in all of the last fiscal year, it is uncertain when they will arrive, said health center manager Nelda David.

But David said that won’t stop the staff of roughly three dozen from rolling out the welcome mat at the clinic, founded four decades ago specifically to assist Southeast Asians after the Vietnam War. Most of the nurses, assistants and other staff are immigrants or former refugees themselves, and understand the shock of starting over in a new country.

Medical interpreter Jahannaz Afshar welcomes Farsi speakers at the front door even before they check in for their first visit. In a windowless office, she explains what to expect over at least four visits as part of a comprehensive health assessment, which includes updating immunizations and checking for infectious diseases. A medical exam is required of all refugees.

But Afshar, who moved from Iran in 2004, also explains cultural differences, such as the American preference for personal space and chitchat. She’ll tell newcomers how to take the bus or use the public library, and reassure them that in the U.S., people help without expectation of getting anything in return.

Most staff members are bilingual, and come from a number of countries, including China, Myanmar, Sierra Leone and Mexico, said Mylene Madrid, who coordinates the refugee health assessment program. But staff can help even without speaking the same language.

An Afghan woman was tense and nervous when she arrived the other day for her first medical exam. By the end of the hourslong visit, however, she was cracking jokes and sharing photos with public health assistant Nikie Phung, who had fled Vietnam decades earlier with her family.

Another new arrival from Afghanistan dropped by the clinic complaining of chest pains but was so anxious she couldn’t elaborate on her symptoms. Pham, the nurse, asked if she could hold her hand. They sat as the woman sobbed, then finally spoke of the stress of having her entire family living in a cramped hotel room.

By then, her pains had receded. Pham noticed that the woman’s daughter and son-in-law were upbeat and more comfortable speaking English. She pulled the daughter aside.

“Would you please spend time with your mom?” she asked her. “Talk to her more.”

Staff members have gone out of their way to connect patients to jobs, furnish empty apartments and tap the broader community for rent and other relief. They’ve stocked diapers for babies and handed out gift baskets at Thanksgiving. During a routine visit, a patient mentioned he needed car repairs for work. Within weeks, the clinic had raised $2,000 to give him.

“Your heart is different,” says Jaspinder Mann, an assistant nurse manager originally from India, of immigrants’ desire to help.

Afshar says she can’t imagine what refugees are going through. The former apparel designer and her husband were not fleeing strife and shootings when they chose to leave Iran. And yet, she too struggled at first.

“And this is one of the things that I always share,” she said. “That even though it’s going to be hard, later you’re going to be happy because … you’re going to learn so much and you’re going to grow so much.”

At the clinic, she hops on the phone to arrange an eye exam for Mohammad Attaie, 50, a radio technician who fled the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, this summer with his wife, Deena, a journalist, and their daughter. Sana, 10, adores her new school in San Jose but the couple worry about finding work when they can’t speak the language.

Still, seeing people like Afshar and Pham gives them confidence.

“They are successful. They’re working here. Their language skills are good. I am hoping that in less than a year I can stand on my feet,” Deena Attaie said, speaking in Farsi.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Tropical...
Associated Press

Florida monitors a growing Tropical Storm Ian in Caribbean

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Authorities and residents in Florida were keeping a cautious eye on Tropical Storm Ian as it rumbled through the Caribbean on Sunday, expected to continue gaining strength and become a major hurricane in the coming days on a forecast track toward the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency […]
23 hours ago
Brothers of Italy's Leader Giorgia Meloni attends the center-right coalition closing rally in Rome ...
Associated Press

Italians vote in election that could take far-right to power

ROME (AP) — Italians were voting on Sunday in an election that could move the country’s politics sharply toward the right during a critical time for Europe, with war in Ukraine fueling skyrocketing energy bills and testing the West’s resolve to stand united against Russian aggression. Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0500GMT). The counting of […]
23 hours ago
Associated Press

Today in History: September 25, Sandra Day O’Connor sworn in

Today in History Today is Sunday, Sept. 25, the 268th day of 2022. There are 97 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Sept. 25, 1957, nine Black students who’d been forced to withdraw from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, because of unruly white crowds were escorted to class by […]
23 hours ago
Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi acknowledges the audience applause after addressing the 77th sess...
Associated Press

China on Taiwan: ‘External interference’ won’t be tolerated

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — China underscored its commitment Saturday to its claim on Taiwan, telling assembled world leaders that anyone who gets in the way of its determination to reunify with the self-governing island would be “crushed by the wheels of history.” The language was forceful but, for Chinese leadership, well within the realm of […]
23 hours ago
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan announces a new federal office of envir...
Associated Press

Biden administration launches environmental justice office

WARRENTON, N.C. (AP) — President Joe Biden’s top environment official visited what is widely considered the birthplace of the environmental justice movement Saturday to unveil a national office that will distribute $3 billion in block grants to underserved communities burdened by pollution. Forty years after a predominantly Black community in Warren County, North Carolina, rallied […]
23 hours ago
People watch a news program showing a file image of a missile launch by North Korea at the Seoul Ra...
Associated Press

South Korea says North Korea test-fired missile toward sea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile Sunday toward its eastern seas, extending a provocative streak in weapons testing as a U.S. aircraft carrier visits South Korea for joint military exercises in response to the North’s growing nuclear threat. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile launched from […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Immigrants welcome Afghan refugees, inspired by own journeys