With U.S. forces withdrawn from Afghanistan and thousands of refugees finding new homes on American soil, there are many questions arising about where refugees will decide to settle down. While originally it seemed many refugees were just stopping for a layover in Fairfax County before heading to military bases in other states, it seems that more Afghans than originally thought will be staying and integrating into the county.
“I do not know how many refugees are going to be going into the schools and the county, but I am looking for and have been trying to get that information,” said Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity. “The real problem is the lack of information from the federal government about this topic. It is a federal government project.”
Currently, more refugees are being temporarily housed at the former Dick’s Sporting Goods location in Fair Lakes, which has been empty for several months. “What we do know is what we are doing, which is police and fire and rescue presence at the site being provided for refugees. Lots of them are going into our hospitals,” said Herrity. “We also have nonprofits engaged to help, but short of that we don’t have a lot of details for what the refugees’ plans are, we just haven’t gotten answers yet.”
The Fairfax County Government website goes into some detail about how they are helping the refugees who will be staying in the county after fleeing. “Because Fairfax County has a sizable Afghan population, it is anticipated that many refugees will eventually resettle here. We’re working with nonprofits and faith communities in assisting Afghan refugees who will eventually call the county their home,” the Fairfax County Government website says. “Afghan refugees have experienced significant trauma, uncertainty, and stress during the evacuation process. It is our priority to ensure that individuals and families who resettle here can access services as quickly as possible so that they can focus on rebuilding their lives and establishing support networks in the community.”
A flyer on the Fairfax County Government website lists resources for refugees including housing, human services, and schools. The sheet lists how the county can provide refugees with necessities, transportation, behavioral health services, housing assistance, education, immunizations, and public assistance benefits, and what numbers to call to access these services provided by the county.
While the exact number of refugees staying is currently unknown, Fairfax County Public Schools is ready to accommodate as many refugee students as possible. Meredith Hedrick, the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Department Chair at Annandale High School, told WDVM about how the school is already accommodating some refugee students, and preparing for more. “I think we have 17 to 18 Afghan students enrolled at our school, and I’m assuming that’s going to increase by 20 to 30 percent soon,” she said. “Specifically, we just meant to have registration systems in place so that when they do come, we can efficiently register them.”
FCPS prides itself on its abilities to help students acclimate to a new country through their ESOL classes, where students from all over the world and speak different languages can come together to learn English. One Afghan refugee shared his family’s story of success, giving hope to those fleeing. Tahir Luddin told WTOP news of the success his children had learning English after fleeing Afghanistan just a year ago, and the immense progress they have made in a short period of time thanks to FCPS.
“Nooria and Samiullah had never used a computer before. So, for the first couple of months, it was so hard, but luckily it was the pandemic, so I was not at work, so I was helping them,” Luddin said. “It’s amazing; I cannot even express how much I’m satisfied with the teachers. I am surprised by my daughter and my son when they speak. I said, ‘Have these guys been here for 20 years?’ But it’s the first year.”
While FCPS offers daytime school lessons to students, there are also family literacy options available for those looking to learn English. The FCPS website details how children as young as 3 can come to begin learning English, as well as parents for a year-long, free course to learn English with their children.
To access Fairfax County resources for refugees visit https://bit.ly/3BR4aAD.