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Refugee says welcome your new neighbor without demanding the backstory

Case manager Abakar, left, with Azim, the first Afghan refugee to arrive in Utah, at Salt Lake City International Airport. Photo: Catholic Community Services of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — You are a refugee and are new to the United States. Yesterday you just came here from a war-torn country and you have no family, no friends, no insurance, etc. How do you get the help you need? A refugee and social worker in Utah gives her advice for getting to know your new refugee neighbor.

Fallout of 20-year war

More than 7 out of 10 Americans support resettling Afghans who worked with the U.S. government or military, according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll

Between 2001 and July 2021, the United States admitted nearly 21,000 Afghan refugees.

President Joe Biden said the United States would evacuate 50,000 to 65,000 Afghan allies before an Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. withdrawal, according to Reuters.

Fear of the unknown

As many as 1 in 3 refugees experience high rates of depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Institute.

What are Afghan refugees who have recently fled their country dealing with, beyond the headlines we have all seen?

“Many refugees haven’t traveled away from their own home country or been on a plane, which can be a fear in itself,” said Yasaman Keshavar, who was a refugee and is now a Social Worker with Huntsman Mental Health.

She joins the KSL NewsRadio to talk about the mental stress refugees go through.

First, they have to leave family behind.

Language is one of the biggest barriers that refugees struggle with. They don’t know English; the older refugees can’t learn how to speak it in public schools, Keshavar said.

Find help for a refugee here: The International Catholic Migration Commission.

Don’t ask a refugee to explain why they are here, please?

In hindsight, what are some of the things you wish Utahns would have done for you when you arrived as a refugee? Also, what are the best ways to reach out and help a refugee?

Keshavar said her experience resettling in Utah was positive. Everyone around her made her feel welcome and accepted in her new country. But, she added, not all refugees experience that and many feel judged.

She said asking a refugee why they are here in this state or country traumatizes them. They have to retell their stories over and over — sometimes on a daily basis.

“I would encourage everyone to be open-minded and just go and try to get to know them without having any sort of assumptions or judgments, and wanting to just hear their stories as much as that refugee is willing to share,” Keshavar said.

She recommended looking on the experience as an exciting challenge and opportunity to know other cultures, languages and different foods — and make a friend, too.