Munatsi Manyande has met many people from around the world looking to start a new life in the United States.
They include people fleeing religious or ethnic persecution, journalists who exposed corruption, political opposition leaders who are fighting against dictatorship and people who are targeted for their sexual orientation.
The 41-year-old is the executive director of the DASH Network, Dallas-Fort Worth’s asylum seeker housing organization. The organization helps asylum seekers resettle in North Texas and provides them housing, food, transportation and support systems while awaiting their work permit.
“You’re literally starting over, because every single person that comes in to seek asylum basically had to leave home with one suitcase, or a backpack, in some cases,” said Manyande, who took over as executive director of the organization in 2018.
“Everything you own, you can carry in your own hands when you arrive.”
Since 2012, DASH has served over 240 people, with the majority of them coming in the past four to five years. On average, these asylum seekers stay 27 months in the program until they can get their work permit and save up enough money to live independently. Manyande describes it as long-term housing support.
Refugee vs. asylum seeker
Refugees are people who leave their home country for another as part of a mass displacement, often resulting from war, local conflict, or persecution. Refugees often leave for a neighboring country first, where they are often settled in a United Nations-administered refugee camp. Then, the UN will relocate them to different countries that have accepted to take in a certain number of refugees. Once settled in their new country, refugees will often benefit from some government assistance while transitioning to their new life.
Asylum seekers are people who leave their home country seeking protection in another country because of feared persecution. Unlike a refugee, an asylum seeker must find and finance their own journey out of their home country. Asylum seekers do not receive government assistance with their resettlement until their asylum status has been granted, which typically takes five to seven years.
There are anywhere between 40 to 50 asylum seekers in the DASH Network at any given time, housed and cared for across the organization’s various partners. In 2019, that number was half of that.
“We’re, obviously, trying to work really hard to make sure that the first job somebody gets once they get their work permit, needs to be a job that pays them a decent wage. Otherwise, it’s gonna be really difficult for them to transition,” Manyande said.
The organization works with lawyers to vet all those seeking shelter at DASH to make sure their asylum cases are legitimate.
One of those is asylum seeker Mansoor Chaudhary, a 47-year-old from Pakistan.
He left Pakistan and moved to Qatar back in 2000 because of his political connections in his home country. Chaudhary — who got his master’s in business there and worked for the Qatari government — was forced to leave Qatar after 20 years and return to Pakistan for good, where his political affiliations made him a target.
How to get involved?
People interested in volunteering with the DASH Network can fill out an application on their website www.dashnetwork.net/get-involved/. Volunteers can help teach English classes, deliver food, drive asylum seekers to their appointments, host social outings and more.
For monetary donations, visit www.dashnetwork.net/give/.
In 2020, Chaudhary left for the United States, hoping to start anew in Dallas-Fort Worth, where his brothers and son are currently residing.
During his early days in Texas, Chaudhary became homeless while waiting for his work permit and dealing with some health issues. He was able to find some side jobs. His brother, a UT Dallas student, was able to support him temporarily.
“I was working in parallel (to his brother’s support), kind of illegally,” Chaudhary admitted. “What can I say? I was not stealing. I was working toward my living.”
Chaudhary was able to file for asylum in 2021 through an attorney. At the same time, he found and was accepted into the DASH Network, which provided him shelter and food while he waited for his case.
Although DASH is mostly a Christian organization, Chaudhary, who is Muslim, described it as a bridge between where he was and where he is now. He calls it the DASH family and remains thankful for their support.
“It was a big change in the sense that you can see the humanity, you can see the love, you can see the care, you can see the hospitality,” he said.
Six months later and armed with his work permit, Chaudhary saved up and was able to graduate from the DASH Network into his own accommodation.
When asylum seekers arrive in the United States, most apply for a work permit, which can take typically between two to three years to obtain, from the date of entry to the U.S. But applying for asylum status itself can take between five to seven years to obtain the status.
Seeking asylum in the United States is guaranteed under the United Nations’ 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which requires countries to provide protection to those who qualify as refugees (as defined in the documents). The United States is a signatory to both of these documents and has also incorporated the UN’s definition of a refugee into its Refugee Act of 1980.
There are two ways to request asylum in the United States. The first, known as the affirmative process, occurs when people already in the U.S. on a visa, apply for asylum and state a fear of persecution upon their return home. The defensive process is the second and most commonly portrayed in media. This is when people show up at any U.S border entry without a visa or any paperwork and request asylum.
In 2019, the United States granted asylum to around 46,500 individuals.
Over the years, the political discourse around immigrants and specifically refugees and asylum seekers has been charged, Manyande said. There are a lot of misconceptions about the process, which is legal, and the types of people seeking refuge in the United States.
“Are there people that probably tried to use the asylum process to just find a way to enter the US? I’m sure there are,” he said. “All I know is that the world is broken, and there are a lot of people that go through very difficult things, where it’s no longer safe. Nobody should have to live in fear for your life.”
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