AUSTIN, Texas - After 45 years, Refugee Services of Texas is closing its doors. This leaves many refugees in the dark as they try to navigate life in the U.S.
Nasir Shah Zahid, Mohammad Rasool Farhat, and Ghulam Ali Nasrat were interpreters for the U.S. military. They all came to the U.S. after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
"I was afraid that if the Taliban arrest me, they could kill me or put me in jail," Nasrat said.
Refugee Services of Texas was supposed to help them resettle. However, they all describe an agency that hasn't been of much help, and now that they're closed, they've been left in limbo.
"I have received some checks from RST, but it's not enough for us," Farhat said.
"I am supposed to get help, but there is not any refugee organization to help me," Nasrat said. "I've been waiting for four months. I get nothing."
Zahid says he wants to work and enroll his children in school.
"Nothing they have given to me, how the things work here," Zahid said, he said of the agency.
"It is very difficult without a computer or without Wi-Fi or without anybody to guide these families through the process. There's really no agency or organization that's directly sitting with each family and helping them integrate into American culture," Stefanie Grasty, volunteer with Global Impact Initiative, said.
Zahid and his family were sleeping on the ground in their apartment until a volunteer donated furniture. Volunteers also describe bounced aid checks from RST for other families.
Waiting for other agencies to get to these cases could take months.
Volunteer groups like Global Impact Initiative, which is an education organization, say they've been taking on somewhat of a case management role.
"Now we're just getting inundated with an influx of refugees that just don't know what's going on because the organization that they have been working with is no longer there," Shawn Smith, VP of Operations at Global Impact Initiative, said. "We're really trying to fill that gap until we can pass it along to an organization that can provide that funding, provide that emergency support as needed."
Refugees just hope for improvement from living in subpar situations.
"My son wishes he had a better life one day. He thinks his life was better in Afghanistan than in U.S.," Nasrat said.
"I just want to try my best to be on my own feet...not to depend on others," Zahid said.
FOX 7 asked RST about families in limbo and bounced checks, but they referred us to Episcopal Migration Ministeries. We have not heard back from them.
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You can read the full press release from Refugee Services of Texas below:
"All current refugee clients are being overseen by other existing refugee resettlement programs in Texas or national refugee agencies.
"It is with heavy hearts that we have come to this decision," said David McKeever, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas said. "This agency has faithfully carried out its mission to serve vulnerable populations since its founding in 1978 and has touched thousands of lives along the way. This decision was not made lightly. The Board carefully examined every option and took crucial steps in the weeks leading up to this decision in an attempt to recover RST’s remaining operations after severe budget shortfalls, but we are now forced to close our doors."
Refugee Services of Texas announced on May 10 that the agency would undergo restructuring to account for severe budget shortfalls by taking steps that included dramatically reducing staff, closing offices in Fort Worth and Houston, and pausing refugee resettlement efforts for 120 days. Unfortunately, the drastic measures were not enough. The closure will affect about 150 employees.
The agency’s remaining refugee clients at its offices in Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio are being referred to the state’s other existing refugee agencies or to national refugee agencies. RST employees in those locations may be eligible to receive employment opportunities from those existing refugee agencies.
RST’s human trafficking program – Survivors of Trafficking Empowerment Program (STEP) – based in Austin, Harlingen, and Houston will be permanently closed, affecting a total of seven employees in those locations.
RST’s Austin location will now be directly overseen by Episcopal Migration Ministries, which is the national refugee resettlement agency operating in Austin.
The Amarillo and Dallas offices will be managed by the national refugee agency Church World Service.
Refugee clients at the San Antonio office are now being overseen by other refugee resettlement agencies working in the city.
In total, Refugee Services of Texas served 976 refugee resettlement clients between Oct. 1, 2022, and April 30, 2023.
RST has always been a regional affiliate agency of national refugee resettlement agencies that has relied on the support of ordinary, compassionate Texans since its founding in 1978. Whereas agencies with a national footprint are able to draw from resources from across the United States, RST did not have deep pockets and could not overcome its financial situation to re-emerge in a stronger financial position as was previously hoped.
"We wish to thank all of our employees and the thousands of supporters and volunteers who have helped Refugee Services of Texas touch so many lives over the years," said McKeever. "We urge them to continue this important work and find ways to volunteer at other resettlement agencies who will certainly need their help."
Said Omar Khan, Chair of the RST Board of Directors: "Despite the heartbreaking loss all of us feel at the closing of Refugee Services of Texas, all of us are extraordinarily proud of the legacy we leave. Since its founding in 1978, RST has successfully resettled more than 26,000 refugees."