Afghan refugees resettling in New York, but not on Long Island
By Charles Shaw
As thousands of Afghan refugees begin a new life in the United States, more than 1,000 are resettling in New York, but none are moving to Long Island.
According to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, as many as 1,143 Afghan nationals who evacuated last summer are expected to resettle in communities across parts of the state by March 31. Up to 100 are expected to resettle in Albany, 335 in Buffalo, 240 in the New York City area, 200 in Rochester, 248 in Syracuse and 20 in Utica, but none plan to resettle on Long Island. Challenges such as housing and employment could be among the reasons why, according to members of organizations that help refugees resettle in America.
“There are some challenges for refugees coming to Long Island,” said Carmen Maquilon, director of immigration and refugee services for Catholic Charities of Long Island, a nonprofit organization in Hicksville that provides legal counseling and resettlement services to refugees. “Coming into the community, the high cost of housing and affordability can be difficult for them, especially in the New York Metro area where housing is high.”
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median value of owner-occupied home in Suffolk County between 2015–2019 was $397,000, while Nassau County had a median value of $493,500. Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, cities in upstate New York where Afghan refugees are expected to resettle, had median values of $89,800, $83,100 and $94,400, respectively.
Bill Swersey, vice president of communications for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a nonprofit refugee protection organization based in Silver Spring, Md., with an office in New York City, said areas where the cost of living is low are easier for refugees to start over.
“We want to place refugees where they are likely to be successful,” Swersey said, “and costly housing is a burden, so we’re always looking for affordable options.”
For refugees, there are numerous hurdles to endure while building a life in a new environment. Swersey cites home sickness, trauma, employment, education for children and medical issues as just a few of the challenges that refugees face. His organization addresses these issues through resettlement programs that provide housing, food, clothing and medical assistance.
“The latest refugee resettlement program is predicated on a very rapid integration into society,” Swersey said.
According to Swersey, the work of resettlement agencies takes place over three to six months after refugees arrive in the U.S. During this time, refugees go through cultural orientation, prepare paperwork, apply for benefits and Social Security, enroll their children in school, and join English language and employment programs, all to support themselves and their families.
Even when refugees find jobs, economic survival in New York is challenging, according to Elise de Castillo, executive director of the Central American Refugee Center, a nonprofit organization based in Hempstead that provides legal services and education to immigrant communities.
“The jobs that many refugees are eligible for are lower wage jobs,” said Castillo, “which often means that, economically, they’re fighting from the bottom up.”
Finding a job is even more challenging for refugee women. Castillo said many refugees come from cultures where women are primarily responsible for the care of children, and have to balance that with the additional obstacle of integration into the community.
“There’s torture and death in many cases,” Castillo said, “and many folks are suffering from trauma as a result of a specific experience. Dealing with children who are adjusting to a life in a new country, and overcoming past traumas can amplify an already complicated reality.”