Afghanistan refugees adjust to new lives in Las Cruces

LAS CRUCES – It’s a sunny Saturday at the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market, and for three new Las Crucens, it’s a mix of familiarity and culture shock. They are refugees who fled Afghanistan when the US-backed government fell last year and the Taliban regained power after 20 years.

They are in awe at the number of people walking dogs, as pet dogs are uncommon where they come from. The smell of cooked meat, street tacos and kettle corn linger, but the refugees have dietary restrictions that disallow them from trying many of the foods. They stopped to watch Christopher Van Inga perform tricks with his bird, Phinneas, absolutely delighted by the spectacle.

They joke with Ali Scotten, their translator and cultural mentor, about opening up a stand to sell halal Afghan food at the market. Scotten mentions that this type of place reminds them of bazaars they’d frequent back home, where residents shop for most of their food. For these refugees, this is their favorite part of their new lives in New Mexico because it’s the place where they see the most people out and about in one place. People in the US prefer to drive rather than walk, they mention, limiting interactions.

Ali Scotten is a cultural mentor assisting Afghan evacuees through the Las Cruces branch of Lutheran Family Services.  He's pictured at the Las Cruces home of three refugees on March 2, 2022.

These are just three of the more than 200 refugees from Afghanistan resettled in Las Cruces since September. Out of concern for him and the safety of his family back in Afghanistan, the Sun-News is declining to identify one of them. The other two are former Afghan special forces members who are now trying to figure out their next moves in life.

The men stress about the well-being of their families. Last month, they landed jobs as floor technicians at Memorial Medical Center, which was a crucial step in their transition as the federal government provides them limited financial assistance. As they begin to earn income, they’ll send much of it back to their families overseas, while keeping some for themselves.

Leave a Comment