Case managers help arrivals from Afghanistan prosper in new home

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Sarwar Hawez, self-sufficiency case manager for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville’s Refugee and Immigration Services, speaks with Mohammad Wais Akbar and his wife Marwa Akbar after greeting them at the Nashville International Airport Monday, Nov. 1. The Akbars along with their sons 2-year-old Mohammad Omais and 4-month-old Mohammad Omair are among the Afghans Catholic Charities is helping to resettle. Photos by Katie Peterson

Sarwar Hawez has been serving as a self-sufficiency case manager for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville’s Refugee and Immigration Services since 2003, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.  

“I like to be a case manager to see different people, different attitudes, different psychology, different cultures,” Hawez said. “Every day I learn new things. I love the job. Even if I work Saturday and Sunday, I don’t care.”  

Refugees resettled through the program are usually self-sufficient within about six to eight months of arrival. 

And that won’t change as Hawez and the other seven case managers for Catholic Charities help the Afghans who will resettle in Nashville after they were evacuated out of Kabul, Afghanistan, following the takeover of the country by the Taliban. Catholic Charities’ assistance is part of the U.S. State Department’s Afghan Placement Assistance Program.  

As of Oct. 31, 85 of the Afghans scheduled to be resettled in Nashville have arrived, and Hawez currently oversees nine of those cases. That will only increase in the coming months as new developments in the program were announced Tuesday, Nov. 9, as the military and state departments work to expedite evacuees off military bases by Feb. 15, 2022.  

“Based on the successful partnerships Catholic Charities has been able to forge, including housing options, volunteers, faith communities and employers, when we were asked by the federal government to increase capacity, Catholic Charities has agreed to increase our number of Afghan arrivals to 300 from the originally planned 150,” said Judy Orr, Catholic Charities executive director.  

With the increase in arrival numbers comes the increased importance of case managers such as Hawez.  

An essential piece 

The case manager’s job is to welcome refugee families to Nashville when they arrive at the airport and to help them with basic needs until they can become self-sufficient.  

“We call it core services, which is housing, food stamps, Social Security, medical, state IDs, and employment,” Hawez explained.  

Kellye Branson, Refugee and Immigration Services director, said the case managers are among the most essential parts of the department.  

Sarwar Hawez shares a smile with the Akbar family including dad Mohammad Wais, mom Marwa and their sons 2-year-old Mohammad Omais and 4-month-old Mohammand Omair, following their arrival in Nashville.

“They’re critical. They are the first ones to have contact with our clients. They basically set the stage for the interaction between our agency and the people that we serve,” Branson said. “They are responsible not only for getting people to appointments but for paying attention to any concerns that might be there, either spoken or unspoken. 

“The case managers, they are the eyes and ears of our department with our clients to see what their needs are, what their fears are, and to respond to those. They provide information to clients, they answer their questions, they let them know what it is going to be like over the next few months, they calm their nerves if they’re worried about how they’re going to pay for their apartments,” she said. “They connect them to community resources and any resources that a client may ask about. We know the things that we need to do from our funders’ perspective, but the case managers are the ones who help the clients voice their goals and their needs so that we can make that part of the plan, too.  

“They’re the ones who have their finger on the pulse of the families that we serve,” Branson added. “We count on them to come back and let us know what that family needs and then to work to find the resources for them.”  

A familiar situation 

Hawez understands the experience of the Afghans arriving in Nashville, having been a refugee himself in 1997. He and his family were evacuated out of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq to Guam and then to Nashville by the World Relief Agency. His evacuation came after Saddam Hussein tried to oppress the Kurdish people following the end of the First Gulf War.  

“History repeated itself,” Hawez said of the relation between his experience to the current situation in Kabul.  

Like many of the Afghans being resettled in Nashville, Hawez worked with U.S. military forces before becoming a refugee. He worked with the Kurdistan Reconstruction Organization, which met with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) on a weekly basis.  

“Saddam ordered that any people who had been working with a foreign agency, specifically with a U.S. office or agency, would be executed,” Hawez explained.  

But he also recognizes that the situation is different for everyone, and the two oppressions are different, which is why he just focuses on the service he provides.  

Hawez, right, escorts the Akbar family out of the Nashville International Airport following their arrival. 

“This issue is complicated because every individual has a different perspective,” he said. “I’m just so glad to bring more Afghans to Nashville. 

“I like to help refugee people, especially those people who don’t speak English as well and need help to adapt and to integrate into this society.” 

Procedure delays 

But delays in providing some of the services hasn’t made it easy.  

Before the APA program was established, changes were made to the process of enrolling refugees for Social Security, employment authorization documents, and other benefits. The change from completing the applications overseas to the military bases where the Afghans are processed have added to the delay.   

“Because they don’t know at the military bases necessarily where each family is going, the address they have used for all of them is the International Organization for Migration (in Washington D.C.),” Branson explained. “Normally, it’s a process that would not be having tens of thousands of documents all going to one organization to sort through and then send out to the appropriate final destination, but that’s what’s happening.”   

The best service possible 

Despite the delays, however, Hawez said he is committed to providing the best service he possibly can to his Afghan clients.  

“I’m committed to encouraging them and letting them know they are in a safe place and a good place and a good system, and everything in the future will be good for their family, and they’ll have a better life here,” Hawez said. “They have a good opportunity not just for education, but to get a job and build a really nice life in America.” 

To learn more about how to donate or volunteer to help Catholic Charities in Afghan resettlement, visit cctenn.org, or donate to the recently launched Welcoming Nashville Fund at https://www.unitedwaygreaternashville.org/welcoming-nashville-fund/.  

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