UTAH (ABC4) – This summer, the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan symbolizing the end of America’s longest war. Since that time, the U.S.A. has evacuated more than 75,000 Afghan refugees through Operation Allies Welcome.
About three-quarters of those refugees have now been resettled in local communities and a couple of Utah refugee resettlement agencies quickly jumped in to help bring some of them to the Beehive State. Now, one agency is using a foster program to help boost that effort in a unique way: finding homes for unaccompanied minors.
At the end of August 2021, images coming out of Afghanistan shocked Americans. Many of these images from U.S. military branches showed enormous crowds of Afghans who desperate to evacuate their country with the leaving U.S. troops.
“It was a crisis,” Aden Batar told ABC4. He continued, “Thousands of Afghans had been evacuated very quickly, they were brought into the U.S., and the U.S. government wanted them to be resettled in different states.”
Utah being one of those states. Batar is the Director of Migration and Refugee Service at Catholic Community Services. Batar helps refugees resettle in Utah communities ranging from Ogden down through Utah County on a regular basis. However, he told ABC4 that the refugee crisis that resulted from the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan has been different than any other he’s experienced.
“We were getting families arriving every day, picking them up from the airport, and we weren’t able to secure housing,” he said. “We didn’t have the time to plan for all that, so it was very chaotic.”
He told ABC4 that Utahns stepped up to the plate through donating their services, time, money and essential goods for the refugees who were arriving daily. “These last few months, the support that our community has provided was overwhelming, and I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Since the first refugee’s arrival, CCS has helped more than 260 Afghans settle into Utah. With tens of thousands of refugees still waiting at U.S. military bases, Batar told ABC4 that hundreds more could be coming to Utah. A few dozen of those may be unaccompanied minors who were separated from their families during the chaos of the mass evacuation.
“We’ve received three of those youths so far since December,” Refugee Foster Care Program Manager Erica Astle explained.
She said the foster program is about 10 years old. However, the unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan are different from any other children they’ve fostered before. She explained that unlike other minors who may come to the U.S. seeking asylum, these refugees were unintentionally separated from their families and in many cases, no one knows how the separation happened, or where they child’s family is currently. “That’s something we’re hopeful for and something that we want for all of our youth is to be unified with family but there is so much unknown.”
While it is not clear how many more unaccompanied minors will end up in Utah, Astle told ABC4 that CCS is currently looking for 20 to 30 foster families. “We’re saying, ‘Will you care for this youth forever, or until their family can get here, or…’” Astle stops. “There’s a lot of unknown for everyone involved.”
The foster program encourages everyone who wants to foster to investigate it. However, Astle said they will prioritize foster families with similar backgrounds with these children. She said they hope to have other Afghan families come forward to help, or Utahans who understand the culture, language and religion. This prioritization to help make the transition easier for children who are already going through many changes. She added: “The youth who’ve experienced so much loss and trauma to have that big question mark of: ‘Well, when can I be with my family again? How long will this take?’ It takes a toll on them.”
Catholic Community Services mirrors the state’s requirements and training to prepare future foster families. Learn more about fostering and the requirements, here.