One year after Taliban takeover, Afghan refugees in Minnesota still face challenges

A year ago, Afghan people faced dangers just trying to flee their country, as the Taliban was descending upon the capital. But other challenges were ahead of them, from language barriers to securing income and housing.

A year after she watched her homeland plunged into chaos, Sumaia Haidari has a life in Minneapolis where everything is new.

"I'm so excited, but it's a new city for me," Haidari told FOX 9. "New people, new culture, new weather, but for me, it's not very easy because my family is in Afghanistan. Just me and my sister (are here)."

Back home in Afghanistan, Haidari was a famous referee and athlete in a type of martial arts known as Muay Thai. So that made her a target, and she and her sister fled the war-torn country, leaving the rest of their family behind.

"For me, it's very hard because I'm the baby of my (family). I have two brothers and two sisters," Haidari said.

August 15 marks a year since Kabul fell to the Taliban and thousands of people had to escape the only culture they knew. But those still there, have seen momentous change.

"For many, it was a day of shock a year ago," said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights and a professor of law at the University of Minnesota Law School. "Since that day, we've seen catastrophes. We've seen catastrophe for the people of Afghanistan and most particularly, we've seen catastrophe for the women and girls of Afghanistan."

She describes the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan where children are dying of malnutrition, the economy has collapsed, and women and girls are heavily restricted.

"Women have to be accompanied by a male when they go out into public space. And if they are not and they protest, then we've seen the use of physical force and violence against them," she explained.

Afghans who are here in the United States are facing different types of challenges, especially housing.

The organization ZACAH has helped distribute rental assistance to more than 150 Afghan families using grants from the state.

Volunteer Yusra Murad explained that refugees here are typically on 6-month leases, and those leases are expiring or have now already expired.

"Six months is not enough time for new families to completely restart their life in a new country, where there's a new language and everything is an obstacle and a challenge," Murad said. "It is a lot to ask people to -- within six months -- get a stable income into the house, get kids enrolled in school, get access to a vehicle, English classes where it's necessary and still keep up with rent, which is largely unaffordable for the vast majority of people who are from Minnesota."

She explained some resettlement agencies also have a 6-month cap of assistance meaning families could lose access to caseworkers.

"With that, they're also losing access to the caseworkers from the resettlement organizations who were initially assigned to them," Murad said. "So what we're doing now is using federal funds to offer rent subsidies to families."

As for Haidari, she and her sister currently have an apartment in Minneapolis. She’s taking classes to improve her English and working at the airport. She is sad that she is not currently able to take part in martial arts here, but she hopes to get back to her sports roots soon and pick back up her studies in journalism.