By Kim Bojórquez, Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Ahmad Naweed Shirzad was working with his colleagues on a documentary north of Kabul, Afghanistan last year when he learned the Taliban were taking power in provinces across the country.
As he and his crew traveled to Kabul to seek safety, Shirzad said they were ambushed by Taliban fighters, who badly injured his arm and killed someone in his security detail, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. After Shirzad recovered in hospital, he received a call from the documentary’s director, telling him to go to the airport to catch a US military flight out of Afghanistan.
Shirzad is one of 60,000 Afghan immigrants who have relocated to the US to seek refuge as a humanitarian crisis unfolds in Afghanistan. Of those, just over 900 Afghan refugees have moved to Utah –– the largest refugee resettlement in the state’s history.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Wednesday announced a plan to help integrate Afghan immigrants, many of whom are serving as humanitarian probation officers, into the state by offering them housing, education and job opportunities.
“Since the quick evacuation last August, a little over 900 of the newcomers assigned to our state have been relocated to Utah,” Cox said during a news conference in the Capitol’s Gold Room about what is known as “Afghan Day on the Hill.” .”
“This group includes individuals who worked closely with the US government in Afghanistan and were key US government allies,” he said. “They are here with their families and their children to build a new life for themselves.”
Cox said the state will offer Afghan refugees staff training that includes English and technology courses. He also said the state had raised about $1 million for the Utah Afghan Community Fund, which paid for legal counsel, cell phones and other necessities for Afghan arrivals.
“They came to Utah on work permits, and we help them find good jobs,” Cox said. “We recognize the incredible talents, skills and life experiences these Afghans bring to our workforce. They will be a wonderful addition to filling much needed positions in the state.”
Cox said he was concerned about finding housing for Afghan refugees, especially as the state faces a housing crisis. He urged Utahns to secure 50 additional housing units for 220 people by the end of March.
“Ensuring that we are able to find permanent housing for these refugees remains a very high priority,” he said. “We’re still missing something and we could use a little help there.”
Cox called the relocation of hundreds of refugees across the state a “tremendous task,” but said the work is possible with the help of resettlement agencies like the Utah Refugee Services Office, the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services.
After leaving Afghanistan in August, Shirzad spent time in Qatar and at a US military base before settling in Utah in December last year.
“I feel very safe here,” Shirzad said through a translator. “And I’ve found that Utah is definitely a symbol of humanity, democracy and freedom.”
Shirzad hopes to find another job as a documentary filmmaker in Utah.
Shirzad said his wife, two children and father still live in Afghanistan. He has photos of his kids on his phone but he doesn’t know if they can move to the US to join him.
This week, Cox signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, that would allow humanitarian parole officers access to an interpreter when obtaining a state driver’s license.
“We are grateful for the willingness of lawmakers to address issues that affect not only Afghan arrivals but also the refugees coming into the state,” he said.
Another piece of legislation that would benefit Utah’s immigrant communities is HB130, which would allow individuals to take a driver’s license test in a language other than English, Cox added.
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