Updated: August 01, 2021 12:56 PM
Created: July 31, 2021 11:35 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — In its seven-year history, not-for-profit Keeping Our Promise, Inc. has helped 376 Middle Eastern people resettle in the Rochester area.
The people Keeping Our Promise helps our wartime allies who worked with the U.S. military in the Middle East and are now seeking refuge. President Biden said earlier this month that on Aug. 31 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan which could mean less protection for Middle Eastern people against violence from the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIL in conflict zones.
With the help of Keeping Our Promise, Sayed Omid Sadat, his wife, and his four-year-old son arrived safely in Rochester from the province of Herat, Afghanistan two weeks ago.
"We were rescued from these bad people. We were rescued from worrying. Now we are good," Sadat said.
When they arrived, all of their basic needs — like housing, furniture and food — were taken care of by volunteers with the organization.
"When we opened the refrigerator, it was full of vegetables, full of foods, full of meat, everything that we want, we could found here," Sadat said.
The not-for-profit based out of Pittsford also supplies families with a cell phone and a computer for job searches and homework, as well as bicycles, and cars. Since its founding in 2014, it’s given out 70 cars to resettled families.
But the organization’s work begins long before families like Sadat’s get to the states. In addition to helping them get set up once they’re here, Keeping Our Promise works to speed up the process of getting a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), but it can still be a lengthy process.
For Sadat, it took four years.
"[Keeping Our Promise] asked that his life is in real danger, please expedite his case,” Sadat said. “At that point, I checked my case status, it got an update so I was really happy."
When he worked with the U.S. military, Sadat was a translator and an HR administrator. Up until this week, the Unites States Department of State required applicants to show two years of work with the military to be approved for an SIV. This week that was reduced to one year, however, there’s a backlog of people with two years of U.S. military-related work experience.
An applicant was recently denied an SIV for being seven days short of two years.
Applicants are also asked to show human resources letters from companies they worked for that may or may not still be in existence, which creates issues for SIV applicants.
Keeping Our Promise Executive Director Ellen Smith aims to resettle 15 families per year. In the last eight months alone, she and her team of about 200 volunteers have resettled 16 families. She’s currently working on getting eight families (39 individuals) to Rochester, but she’s running into some challenges.
"As you just heard from Omid, he has several friends that should be getting their visas,” Smith said. “The other issue is we don't know is who is choosing Rochester. Rochester is one of 25 cities in the United States on a State Department list that they can choose from."
Another major challenge is finding adequate housing. Families like Sadat’s are easier to place because there are only three of them. Smith says larger families are harder to place.
The need for resettlement options is dire, and with troops leaving Afghanistan in a month, time is running out.
"For me, it's a huge emotional burden, I have to be honest,” Smith said. “I have pictures of five Afghans on my wall in my office that I’ve worked with.. who have died before they've gotten their visa and gotten over here."
Sadat has family members in Afghanistan who are still in trouble.
"One of my brothers, his life is really, really in danger,” said Sadat. "Bad people like Talibs attacked on them and they fired on them. Fortunately, this bullet didn't hit my brother."
When News10NBC’s Emily Putnam asked Sadat if Keeping Our Promise had saved his life, he said, "Keeping Our Promise rescued us from dangers, from Afghanistan."
Smith says the U.S. government has biodata (iris scans and fingerprints) on everyone applying for an SIV. To add to the dire urgency of relocation, Smith says the Taliban has gotten a hold of that biodata and could potentially use it to target Afghans. For people like Sadat who are now in the U.S. but still have family members overseas, she recommends filing for Humanitarian Parole.
Keeping Our Promise works with an organization called Miles4Migrants to help with the transportation portion of resettlement. It also works with local partners like Catholic Family Center and Rochester Refugee Resettlement Services.
Unlike other resettlement organizations, Keeping Our Promise gets no funding from the federal government. It’s run completely on donations from the community. To learn more or donate, click here.
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