The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Afghan Youth Refugees in Crisis

Nov 22, 2021

Forty-one Afghan children and teens evacuated from Afghanistan this summer ended up in a shelter in Bronzeville on Chicago’s South Side. The shelter, part of Heartland Alliance, has long accommodated refugees. Workers there have had experience helping children from Central America who were separated from their parents.

But they found they were ill-equipped to help the young Afghanis who have known only war, and many of whom were suddenly separated from their parents or relatives this summer.

No one at the shelter speaks either of the main Afghan languages. One worker at the shelter told a ProPublica reporter: “We don’t know if [the children are] saying they’re going to self-harm until we finally get a translator on the line. They could be telling us something. ... We try to guess. We try to communicate with cues, sign language, making motions like if you’re hungry or they need this or that.”

Staff needed to get translators over the phone or on an internet call. Of course, translators are obviously needed for working with children and youth suddenly brought from a war zone. But the Heartland Shelters didn’t receive translators along with the children. It was only after several of them attempted suicide, and Heartland workers blew the whistle, that translators got hired.

Torn from relatives, and with little idea of where they are, many of these youth have lashed out: becoming suicidal or violent. Police were called several dozen times just for this small group.

American imperialism wrought destruction in Afghanistan for two decades. And we see young people, already harmed by that violence, further harmed here by this country’s tattered “safety net.”