HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Monday marks one year since the Taliban invaded and took control of Kabul during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The attack prompted thousands of people to evacuate the war-torn country and resettle in other parts of the world.
The Department of Homeland Security reported that since then, about 81,000 Afghan refugees were brought to the U.S. Jida Nabulsi, the CEO of Amaanah Refugee Services estimates that about 8,000 relocated to the Greater Houston area.
Hussain Mohammadi is one of them. He said he'll never forget August 15, 2021, as the day that changed his life forever, ripping apart everything he ever knew and loved.
"It was a dark day. It was a very bad day in the history of Afghanistan. My family members were separated everywhere. Two of us came to the United States of America. Some went to Iran, Pakistan, or elsewhere in Afghanistan," Mohammadi said.
"I really miss them. When I think about the people still there, I get sad. I'm trying to find a way to bring them here because they are in danger."
Another refugee, Sayed Yasar Sadat, fled with his mother, daughter, and wife, who was expecting their second child at the time. He said the decision was made quickly. He never imagined he would have to leave behind the life he had built for their family.
"I had a good business there. I had a car. I had a beautiful house. But we lost everything in one night," Sadat said. "When we came to the U.S., all I had left was $1,000 in my pocket."
Mohammadi and Sadat now work as leasing agents at the Village at Piney Point apartment complex in west Houston, helping provide housing for more than a hundred Afghan refugees.
They both speak English, which they know is a skill that has provided an advantage in rebuilding their lives in the US. They said being able to give back to their community has helped them move forward during a difficult time.
For others, it is still a complex work in progress. Nabulsi explained that some still don't have their paperwork, hindering access to the necessary resources and support. She cited a 2019 Kinsey Institute study, which found that it takes an average of seven to nine years for a refugee family to get resettled in a new community fully.
"So this was not a normal refugee process. The government bypassed that. So we have our Afghan allies come under a parolee status, which didn't allow them to access public benefits," Nabulsi said. "I believe that has since changed. But it continues to be a struggle to support our Afghan families because of the lack of support for them."
She said agencies throughout Greater Houston, such as Amaanah Refugee Services, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, the Alliance, and the YMCA, came together around this time in 2021 to fundraise money to provide stipends and essential items for refugee families.
"We were all working during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was 24 hours a day of receiving people and finding housing for them. So it was a time for all of us to hustle and come together to support the incoming," Nabulsi said. "It will take at least a year for these refugees to work through the trauma they saw and the trauma they're still living."
Many Afghan refugees, like Mohammadi and Sadat, would ultimately like to become US citizens, but they still face a cloud of legal uncertainty. The Afghan Adjustment Act, which would provide a pathway to lawful permanent residence, was introduced by Congress but has yet to make any headway.
On the one-year mark since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Nabulsi urges lawmakers to act now.
"To be honest, this is really frustrating and we say that because you know the government made a decision to bring these Afghans here. It is now our moral obligation to support this community and make sure they have a pathway to citizenship," she said. "If this doesn't pass, it would be a big disappointment for all the nonprofits and NGOs working with refugees."
Sadat said they always seek donations for food, clothing, furniture, and other essential supplies for their Afghan residents. Drop-offs are welcome at the Village at Piney Point leasing office at 2601 Lazy Hollow Drive.
Nabulsi said Amaanah Refugee Services is always looking for volunteers and will hire people with educational backgrounds to serve their refugee population.
"When you're talking about the future, these people will be the future of Houston. This place is a melting pot; almost 30 percent of our GDP comes from this community. So we can't afford to ignore them. We have to support and embrace their power to be successful. It will only be positive for us and make us stronger," she said.