Even after surviving their traumatic escape from the Taliban, unaccompanied Afghan children still face ongoing challenges here. The goal is to reunify these children with their families who were left behind because of the chaotic evacuation. For those who have no family or sponsors in the United States, they face lengthy stays at government-run shelters because the reunification process is so prolonged.
When children experience trauma, it is understandable that they may become withdrawn and wary of others. These feelings are compounded by lengthy stays in a shelter setting, as it contributes to feelings of hopelessness and isolation. I’ve found that as their attorney, it is not only my job to assess their forms of legal relief and advocate for their needs, but just as important, it is incumbent on me to ensure they feel heard. For many of these children, their attorney is going to be the most consistent adult in their life outside of those in the shelter. Just being regularly available to them and listening to them means more than you can imagine.
I began meeting with detained Afghan children in April of this year via video chat and we were completely reliant on the help of interpreters. As their shelter stays lengthened, we’ve been able to meet more regularly in person, and as their English continuously improves, we’ve been able to communicate more often in English. I’ve found our meetings to be just as enriching for myself as it is for them, if not more.
That is why I’ve been making these trips to the shelter to meet with these children at least once or twice a week for the past several months. During these weekly meetings, I check in personally with each one of the kids. Some meetings are quick, lasting less than twenty minutes, while others can be quite lengthy – stretching up to three hours. Every day is different. Some days, one of the kids may be struggling more than the others. So, I begin every meeting by asking how they’re doing. If I have to discuss a difficult topic with them, I spend even more time at the beginning of our meeting to ensure they’re in a stable state mentally and emotionally before proceeding.
Even though I begin every meeting the same way, I try to personalize every conversation and keep our discussion lively. I sprinkle lighthearted comments and observations throughout our meetings. I’m thrilled when the kids smile and laugh. Sometimes, they’ll even share their own funny comments. I consider it a triumph to lift their spirits even for a moment. During our many meetings, we’ve talked about a host of different topics, including how their week is going, what movies they’ve been watching, what books they’ve been reading, any activities or hobbies they’re interested in, how their schoolwork is going, how their families are doing, and so on.