Abbas Ali, a refugee who grew up in Pakistan and later fled from Afghanistan, in his neighborhood in Bennington on Thursday, September 8, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
BENNINGTON – In a one-story house a few blocks from downtown Bennington, Mary Jan spends several hours a week fashioning brightly colored yarn into winter scarves or bath mitts. Her hand-knit creations are sold at a couple of stores in the county.
Two days a week, she also works at a local food manufacturer, helping make packaged snacks.
Mary Jan, 35, is still getting used to earning an income. Until August of 2021, when her family fled Afghanistan, she’d been a stay-at-home wife and mother of three. Now, her part-time jobs fill some of her free time, but most importantly, they augment her husband’s salary as the family builds a new life in America.
“It’s really good that I can get some money out of this,” Mary Jan said of her knitting, speaking in Dari through an interpreter. “Because the U.S. is really expensive, one person cannot afford what a family needs.”
Her husband Mohammed, 45, is employed as a carpenter by an independent contractor in the county. He previously served as a security guard at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for nearly a decade.
The family decided to leave their native land, fearing for their safety as the Taliban advanced into the Afghan capital in August of last year. Because of his American ties, Mohammed was afraid the Taliban would throw him into prison.
The couple and their 13-year-old son are among at least 76,000 Afghans who’ve been evacuated to the U.S. since the American military completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 30, 2021.
“I was happy that I’d be able to get my family out of there,” Mohammed said in Dari. He asked that VTDigger not disclose the family’s full names to protect the safety of relatives who are still in Afghanistan.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Afghans now constitute one of the largest refugee populations in the world. The vast majority of Afghan refugees — 2.2 million — are living in Pakistan and Iran.
The UNHCR noted that some of the Afghans who’ve relocated served as translators or interpreters during the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Due to their employment with the U.S. government, many faced serious threats to their safety.
Approximately 260 Afghan adults and children have been resettled in Vermont. They include eight families in Bennington County, according to the Ethiopian Community Development Council, a federally contracted resettlement agency that has placed Afghan refugees in Windham and Bennington counties.