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The International Institute is touring the country to lure Afghans to St. Louis

Moji Sidiqi, middle and seated, speaks with Afghans
Afghan Community Support Program
Moji Sidiqi, middle and seated, speaks with Afghans outside a mosque in Texas last week about new opportunities the International Institute's Afghan Community Support Program can provide if they consider moving to St. Louis.

The International Institute of St. Louis’ Afghan Community Support Program is traveling across the country to tell Afghans that St. Louis is a good place to start businesses, find new jobs and raise families.

Program directors are speaking with newly arrived Afghans in Texas, Washington, California, New York, Tennessee, Maryland, Virginia, Colorado, Illinois and Washington, D.C. They are visiting mosques, community centers and events to help Afghan refugee families learn about the possibilities in St. Louis.

Since August 2021, more than 1,000 Afghan refugees have resettled in St. Louis, and civic leaders want more to move to St. Louis to help boost its economy and find jobs.

"We want to create a thriving region for refugees and immigrants who endured trauma from their homelands," said Moji Sidiqi, director of the Afghan Community Support Program.

“We don't want our new family members or new neighbors to continue to survive, we want them to thrive,” she said. “We really, truly believe that St. Louis is that place where with a little bit of a push — setting them up with successes — they can catapult and they can take that next step.”

Sidiqi and Hamdullah Hamdard, a local Afghan business owner, will give talks on business opportunities, grant programs, continuing education and skill development training to ease refugees’ fears of moving across the country. The tour started last week and will go through the end of the year.

They are visiting cities that have a big population of Afghan refugees and most of which, Sidiqi said, lack the resources needed to help them prosper in their new homes.

“Our job is to position St. Louis as a space where there are resources and a place where they can succeed, but it is incumbent on the individual to have the mindset of working hard enough so that they could cultivate and create a pathway for success for themselves,” Sidiqi said.

Within the past year, the Afghan Community Support Program has helped hundreds of refugees start new lives in the St. Louis region. It offers Afghans help with rent, finding employment and assistance with basic needs.

In May, Hamdard was awarded $15,000 from the Institute's Afghan Entrepreneurship Grant Fund to start his digital media company. Hamdard moved to St. Louis from Afghanistan in December 2021 after the fall of his homeland’s government.

Hamdard wants St. Louis to become home for many of the Afghan refugees who have resettled in the area and to bring more to the region to build a stronger business community.

Many Afghans owned businesses at home before they fled to the U.S., so they arrive in St. Louis or other cities equipped with business acumen, said Hamdard.

“Afghans will definitely have a positive impact in St. Louis,” he said. “It will not only boost the economy, but it will also create a stronger community here.”

He hopes his success story and other opportunities available to refugees will encourage them to move to the region and eventually share their stories to help others make a new life for themselves in St. Louis.

“I can proudly say that St. Louis helped me stand on my feet once again, build my life and also work on my visions and my goals that I dream about,” Hamdard said.

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.