A tense silence settled over a room at Bowling Green’s International Center on Monday as Hamishah Gul Rashid and his wife, Tamom Bibi, anxiously awaited the arrival of their interpreter.
The couple and their eight children, all roughly school-age, were among the first Afghan refugees to arrive in Bowling Green over the weekend after they were flown into Nashville from across the country on Friday, having initially entered the U.S. at a military base in New Mexico.
Eager to resolve an issue with their documentation and join their family in Texas, the couple launched into a flurry of questions and concerns once their interpreter eventually walked through the door.
Tamom worried about the safety of extended family back home and whether they’d be able to make it out of the chaos in Afghanistan alive. Hamishah feared that his children weren’t eating enough without access to Halal food.
Despite the significant challenges ahead for the couple – who will both need to learn English and soon prepare to get full-time jobs – an interpreter who spoke for them expects the family will do well here.
“These guys will integrate very well into society,” said the man, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak with the media as a member of the military.
That is, if they’re allowed to stay in the country permanently. The situation remains uncertain for the Rashids and other Afghan refugees expected to arrive at the center this year.
They are classified as “parolees,” a designation that means they’ve been offered conditional and temporary admission into the country.
Like Afghan parolees across the country, the family will still need to apply for permanent residence in the U.S., and failing that, they could be sent back to Afghanistan, International Center Executive Director Albert Mbanfu told the Daily News.
“There is no guarantee that they will obtain the status,” Mbanfu said, referring generally to all Afghans admitted into the U.S. under that parolee status.
For now, the Rashids must play the waiting game. They can’t begin working until they have formal permission from the U.S. government to do so (though that process has been expedited for them). They must also get their children immunized and ready to enroll in public school, Mbanfu said.
Asked by the Daily News about their hopes for their future in the U.S., the couple responded through their interpreter that they want their children to get an education and learn English, otherwise the family’s future may be thrown into jeopardy.
Mbanfu said the initial group of 14 arrivals have all worked with U.S. military forces in some respect doing a wide range of jobs, from acting as interpreters or as informants for American troops in Afghanistan or even as dishwashers.
Hamishah, in particular, was a member of the Khost Provincial Force, a regional militia in eastern Afghanistan that’s worked with the CIA to conduct counterterrorism operations in the region. While with the group, Hamishah was shot twice – once in the ankle, his interpreter said.
The Rashids were among the first Afghan refugees to begin arriving in Bowling Green last week, with more expected. The center is expecting about 200 Afghan refugees to arrive in the coming months, Mbanfu has said.
Going forward, Mbanfu said the center would greatly appreciate any gently used furniture the community can spare, including couches, tables and chairs for furnishing the refugees’ apartment units. The center is still also seeking volunteers and families to help sponsor newly arriving families to show them around town, Mbanfu said.
Monetary donations to help cover rent and other basic expenses are also greatly welcomed, Mbanfu said.
– Donations to the International Center of Kentucky can be made online at icofky.com/donate