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UMD community helps Afghan refugee families resettle

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Posted on: October 12, 2022

By Fatema Hosseini

 It has been nearly six months since the University of Maryland (UMD) welcomed 25 Afghan families who, fearing persecution or worse, fled their home country and immigrated to the U.S. These families are now living in campus housing and have mentors who help them adjust to life in College Park.

 “I love this place; it’s beautiful and people are kind,” said Madina Muhib, 13, whose 7-member Afghan family now lives at the university. Muhib speaks English well, and she’s set her sights on becoming a fashion designer or a doctor. Science comes easy, she said.

 The university has been hosting the families through a partnership with the International Rescue Committee, which has been instrumental in helping them secure jobs, education and the support of various social services. It has been more than a year since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban and thousands of Afghans fled, including individuals at high risk due to their positions as interpreters, drivers or other support for foreign militaries and organizations while the previous government was in power. Afghans make up the largest refugee population in the DMV.

Brian G. Gilmore is a senior lecturer in MLaw Programs, the university’s programming for undergraduate law students. The department has been supporting the Afghan families since their arrival in April 2022. “There are various reasons people come to this country. Refugees come here for a better life; they come here to escape persecution and starvation,” he said.

MLaw Programs has scheduled events focusing on refugees and immigrants during the fall semester. MLAW students are required to attend these events and volunteer to partner with families living on the campus.

  “We have already learned a lot about refugees, and that’s what pretty much our entire program is based on. This is a chance for us to learn what’s going around in the world,” said Erin Lagervall, a freshman MLaw student.

Olivia Castelli, also a freshman MLaw student, spoke about her experience helping one of the refugee families. “We met with a family at a little apartment complex, and we were helping the mom pick school uniforms for her kids. We asked her about her kids’ age and sizes for the clothing; she was not speaking English, and we had to use [gestures]. It took a lot of patience,” said.

Although it can be difficult for refugees to adjust to life in the new country, kids often adjust relatively easily and learn a new language as they engage with other students in school. And at UMD, they have mentors who help them with English.

Lagervall has made a point of playing sports with refugee kids, and she has been impressed by their ease with a new language. “Many kids surprisingly speak both English and their native language, which was really impressive. The kids speak English, but their parents don’t. It was really cool and exciting to see them smile,” she said.

 While more than 76,000 Afghans have evacuated to the U.S. since August 2021, the U.S. is now preparing to welcome up to 100,000 refugees displaced by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The refugee issue is a big issue in our country, especially when it comes to treatment and reactions toward refugees and even minorities,” said Ayodotun Banjo, a senior MLaw student. “I think if there were more events like this everywhere, a lot of changes could happen. There’s a lot that we need to do to make [refugees] feel welcome and give them more resources so that they can have as many privileges as American citizens have.”

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