City Matters

Hussain Amiri of Concord, case manager with Building Community in New Hampshire, speaks during an interview in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Concord on Wednesday.

JUST ABOUT EVERYONE, from conservative to liberal, sympathized as they saw images of Afghan people desperately trying to flee their country as the U.S.-backed government collapsed this summer.

And everyone enthusiastically wanted the United States, which had sharply curtailed refugee immigration during the Trump administration, to host the Afghans who had fallen into danger for helping our military.

Those who got out have been on military bases for months, and some started to arrive in New Hampshire about a month ago. Their success in the Granite State hinges in part on Hussain Amiri.

Amiri is 24. He was born in Afghanistan and lived in a Pakistani refugee camp until 2016, when his mother and her four sons landed in Concord and made their life there.

Last month he started work with the Manchester organization Building Community in New Hampshire.

His job? To be a familiar face and friendly voice for the 120-some Afghan refugees already in Manchester and Concord.

In him, they see a success story. Someone who arrived in the United States with nothing and in less than six years learned English, graduated from high school and enrolled in college, in his case at Plymouth State University.

If he can do it, they can too.

“They (realize) they’re not alone, they’re welcome. They have someone who speaks their language,” said Safiya Wazir, who also immigrated here from Afghanistan and is involved in resettlement.

A Democratic state representative, she spoke to me last week via her phone en route to the Manchester airport, where she was picking up a family.

Other than speaking in steady, slightly subdued tones, Amiri comes across as all-American. He holds eye contact and smiles frequently during a conversation. He wears the garb of American males, a hooded sweatshirt. A lock or two of his black hair escapes from the circumference of a PSU knit cap. He’s a guy in charge.

He spoke in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Concord, where 14 Afghan men and two families are holed up, some going on a month. The housing crunch has affected refugee resettlement efforts.

In Manchester, the International Institute of New England is pausing resettlement because of challenges finding housing.

In Concord, Ascentria Services for New Americans is branching out as far as Keene to find places for the Afghans.

At times Amiri provides encouragement. At other times, the wherewithal to navigate red tape such as applications for food stamps and Medicaid.

“They ask for a lot of stuff, a lot of things. How to get a green card. They keep asking,” he said. “Here in the U.S., people can have patience, they can wait. People from Afghanistan, they can’t wait.”

They all want jobs. One worked in video production, another in maintenance at an American base. But nearly all are hampered by an inability to speak and understand English.

Their biggest worry is their families. Fourteen of the guests are men whose wife and children remain in Afghanistan. They want to bring their families here.

That’s a big ask. The United States has no diplomatic relations with the Taliban-led government, so any visas are at a standstill, according to Crissie Ferrara, a program manager at Ascentria.

The first step is for the men to apply for asylum, she said.

Amiri can tap one of five languages to explain such nuances. He grew up speaking Dari, the official language of Pakistan and what’s known by about three-quarters of the country’s residents.

But not all know Dari, and Amiri will have to rely on one of the Afghans to translate when he works with a Pashto speaker.

Many are like he was when he arrived in Concord in March 2016. His mother had never been to school, and no one in the family knew English.

“It was my responsibility to learn things quickly. That way, I can help my mom, my brothers and myself,” he said.

As the oldest son, he had already done so in the refugee camp, parlaying his skill in rug weaving to a self-run business that paid fees so he and his brothers could attend school there.

His mother now works at Walmart. A younger brother has enlisted in the Marine reserves and attends Plymouth State, he said.

Amiri now takes computer science and business at Plymouth State. He sat out last semester; he doesn’t like remote schooling and social distancing in classes, but plans to attend this coming semester.

In the meantime, he will have his phone handy. His job means he’s on-call all the time, and he has an important task.

“I want them to be happy, feel comfortable here in New Hampshire,” he said. “I think this is the best place in all of America.”