Sikh community reaches out to Afghan refugees with hot meals

ALBANY — One immigrant community has reached out to welcome another through a universal language:

On Monday, members of the Guru Nanak Darbar Sikh Temple in Niskayuna prepared and served lunch to Afghan refugees at a hotel in the Albany area.

People briefly descended into the kitchen to mingle impromptu soup before loading their trays and heading back to their rooms.

Paul Uppal, president of Guru Nanak Darbar, said refugees who were relocated to Albany following the collapse of the Afghan government last year face the same problems as anyone who was quickly forced to flee their native soil. : loneliness, social isolation and lack of clothing, personal care products and financial independence.

“It’s the typical problem of trying to assimilate in a country far from home,” Uppal said.

The Monday menu was Indian and Pakistani vegetarian cuisine.

The noon banquet was a collaboration with the Troy YMCA, Northeast New York Regional Food Bank, Albany Hindu Temple and Tri-City India Association.

“The Sikh temple volunteers prepared their food out of love and respect for their refugees,” Uppal said, “and they will continue to provide aid.

The organizers also made colorful clothes available to the young people, who happily rushed through the corridors.

Fifty-one Afghan refugees are temporarily housed there before they can be moved to other accommodation, officials said.

Guru Nanak Darbar parishioners and leaders also make periodic distributions of raw food to other families in the capital region, said Gurinder Garcha, a volunteer who helped organize Monday’s event.

The Albany field office of the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) has resettled more than 300 Afghan evacuees since September.

Yet their escape from the war-torn country, in many ways, was only the beginning of the road to safety. The evacuees were given only temporary status which expires two years from their date of arrival.

USCRI officials said the lack of a direct path from temporary status to permanent residency leaves them vulnerable at the end of that two-year period.

Finances also remain a challenge beyond immediate resettlement needs.

As an antidote, advocates and politicians are pushing for the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bill introduced in Congress that would create a pathway to permanent status for Afghan evacuees.

Fatima Mukhtar, a board member of the Al-Zahra Islamic Center in Voorheesville, said newcomers integrate into American life with the help of the center.

Recently resettled people, she said, benefit from the experience gained from people who arrived at different times and are therefore at different stages of the assimilation process. A weekly program is also available on site.

Mukhtar emigrated to the United States three decades ago. A later wave of refugees arrived in the early to mid-2000s.

“They have different levels of experience that they can draw on and that really strengthens the community,” Mukhtar said.