First Afghan refugee in Utah, whose family was rescued by Midvale Marine, moves to new apartment

Azim Kakaie’s family are here now, in their new apartment in North Salt Lake, thanks to another Utahn.

Kakaie arrived on August 31, the first Afghan to land in Utah after the Taliban took control. But his wife, brother, mother-in-law and brother-in-law arrived two months later. Together, in their intimidating and delayed escape without Kakaie, they crossed a storm sewer to Kabul airport with the help of Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover.

“He himself took my family’s hands one by one and pulled them out of this water,” Kakaie said.

Thirty minutes later the bombardment began and the Midvale Marine was killed.

“These American heroes – that they sacrificed their lives – they will stay in my heart,” Kakaie recently said in her living room.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Azim Kakaie, who recently arrived with his family from Afghanistan, to his North Salt Lake home on Friday, November 5, 2021.

He and his relatives are some of the 765 Afghans who are due to arrive in Utah – a small part of the 37,000 Afghans who are expected to resettle in the United States after the takeover. The two main local resettlement organizations, Catholic Community Services of Utah and the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City, welcomed 299 Afghans as of November 9.

But getting there is only the first step. Relocation is a marathon, not a sprint.

“It’s going to take a while, but all the refugees here will find their way,” Kakaie said. “So everything might be OK for them after a while. “

“Build a life here”

When refugees arrive in Utah, IRC and CCS staff members help with everything from airport pickup to finding accommodation – one of the biggest challenges of the day. resettlement because vacancies in the Salt Lake City area have hit an all-time low, said Aden Batar, director of migration and refugee services. with Catholic Community Services.

“It has been very intense,” said Batar. “We have new arrivals every day – day and night, weekends, 24/7. “

Natalie El-Deiry, executive director of IRC, said timely settlement of arrivals was the top priority. This particular refugee population went through a complicated process, many staying on military bases for weeks before arriving in Utah.

Ideally, housing options are secured before families arrive, but the sheer increase in arrivals has delayed the process, as well as health examinations, work authorization and obtaining a social security number. which allows refugees to enroll in school or seek employment.

Right now, families typically stay in a hotel for about one to two weeks before CCS can find them permanent accommodation, Batar said.

Kakaie stayed with a cousin who lives in the area while he waited for permanent accommodation. He moved into an apartment just before his family arrived in early November. The Afghan and Middle Eastern Women of Utah nonprofit helped provide Kakaie with furniture and other items.

“It’s a step-by-step process, and it takes time to be able to do it,” El-Deiry said. “But agencies like IRC, and then other partners, are there to support people every step of the way, both with their immediate needs, then with their longer-term needs, and to understand the context of the process. building a life here. “

‘It takes time’

After the initial refugees arrive, the IRC performs various assessments to ensure that families have or can obtain food and groceries, delivering halal meals – consisting of food that conforms to Islamic law – in their hotel rooms as well as boxes of food, supplies such as hygiene supplies. products and gift cards to purchase personal items.

IRC and CCS are also coordinating their efforts with local organizations like the Utah Muslim Civic League, so that volunteers can provide services and donations to families. Currently, the Utahns can support these efforts by making direct donations to organizations or through the Afghan Community Fund.

Beyond the basics, services like IRC’s ESL classes and its four-hour cultural orientation on American laws and customs are a first step in helping Afghans feel at home. comfortable in their new home.

Fatima Baher, who founded Afghan and Middle Eastern Women of Utah, herself arrived in Utah from Syria as a refugee about 15 years ago. Baher knew a little English at the time, but not the rest of his family – running simple errands like nerve-racking groceries.

She remembers how her family’s social worker once dropped them off at a store for shopping, planning to pick them up later. But they couldn’t get in.

“And the social worker, she said to us, ‘It’s okay, don’t be afraid. Do not be afraid. Go ahead, ”and by that time you know the connection – I felt great,” Baher said. “Because our social worker was herself an immigrant. And I was like, okay, so she’s been through what we’re going through, you know. So she felt the same, like us.

Once inside, Baher and his family tried to ask for things, but “everything was different”, with labels and item descriptions written only in English. She remembers asking a woman if there was a product for washing dishes, pointing to a container and scrubbing. The woman made the same gesture, confirming that it was dish soap.

“It was nice and funny at the same time,” Baher said. “The people around us were very helpful. “

Kakaie and his brother speak English; his wife and brother-in-law can both understand it, but they do their best to speak it, he said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Azim Kakaie and Arif Muradi cooked lunch at their North Salt Lake home on Friday, November 5, 2021. Some of the family recently moved to Utah from Afghanistan, while from Afghanistan others remain in place.

El-Deiry, along with IRC, visits every family the organization is helping to relocate. Usually one person in the household can speak a little English, although it is “quite varied,” as in Kakaie’s household, she said. But there is a deep desire and a willingness to learn – ESL classes are often the first thing newcomers ask for.

“I’m connected with a lot of people now on WhatsApp, and we write back and forth in English, and sometimes they’re like, ‘My English is not that good’, and I’m like, ‘Actually your English is pretty good, ”El-Deiry said.

It takes time, she said. “And so I think it’s really important that we allow people this grace and this opportunity to take the time to learn – knowing that it’s about building a life for themselves and their families in our community. , and not just immediately. “

‘Big dreams’

Sitting on a sofa draped in an American flag, Kakaie stopped as he told the moving story of how he and his family were able to escape Afghanistan and ultimately resettle in Utah.

Kakaie worked as an air traffic controller at Kabul airport, where he helped planes take off for as long as he could on the day the Taliban captured the country’s capital. The next day, his superiors finally encouraged him to get on the plane himself, as it was dangerous for him to stay.

He landed in Qatar, where he spent three days and many phone calls also working to get his family out.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Azim Kakaie, the first Afghan SIV, or special immigrant visa holder to arrive in Utah since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, discusses life and work as an air traffic controller at Hamid Karzai International Airport and the days before the chaotic end of the war, September 2, 2021.

On the evening of this third day, his relatives slept on the street just outside the airport, enduring the Taliban beatings so severe that his wife’s feet only recently recovered from bruises. The next day, they were able to access the airport gates via a storm sewer, where they encountered Hoover.

Kakaie’s mother-in-law kissed Hoover’s hands twice through tears once they were successful, Kakaie said. She tried to take a picture with him, but it was too chaotic. So she remembered his name, hoping that they could reunite in Utah.

Hoover’s family then invited Kakaie to a memorial service.

“I was in tears, crying all the time,” Kakaie said.

Kakaie said he and his family had promised to work hard in Utah, so that one day they could honor the Marine who saved them, with “a school, or a library or something by the name of Taylor Hoover.” .

“This is one of my big dreams,” he said.

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