Local resettlement agency helping Afghan refugees


SAN DIEGO — Of the fortunate Afghans who managed to get out of Kabul before the Taliban took over, 500 are arriving in San Diego at the Alliance for African Assistance resettlement agency.

Walter Lam is the president and CEO of the Alliance for African Assistance, which has been helping refugees for 40 years. As a refugee from Uganda, he has a deep understanding of what they may be going through.

“It’s tough for the refugees because you live basically with nothing,” Lam said.

They arrive at all hours of the night and day to begin their journey towards resettlement. The first step is getting an attorney and filing for asylum. Each person who arrives gets $1,200 for living expenses. Most of them didn’t choose to come to America, but had to to save their lives.

“The people that are coming here are so traumatized,” Lam said. “They are coming in here with just a bag in their hands — those that are lucky — and some come with nothing to start their new life here. And these are people who were doing very well in Afghanistan.”

It can take months and sometimes years to be granted asylum. That mean refugees are at the mercy of San Diego’s generosity. The most critical need is funding and housing.

Lam estimates they will need about $250,000 for all 500 Afghans.

“The average family of five, that’s how we arrived at the number. So $102 per family, it’s about $2,400. That’s what we need.”

They are also looking for affordable housing or a home willing to take a family in. But beyond survival, the first major obstacle is acceptance.

“Most of them, they have no options at all,” Lam said. “This is it. So you just have to adjust and accept things the way they are. Denial and all those kinds of things are just normal grieving process that we go through after losing something but we work with them.” 

If you would like to help or donate, visit the Alliance for African Assistance website.

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