African Communities Together: A beacon of hope for African migrants
Since 2022, the influx of migrants arriving in the city has been a hot topic, with most of the media and public’s attention seeming to focus on asylum seekers from Latin America, but the journey of African migrants has remained in the shadows. A nonprofit organization in Harlem says it has become a beacon of hope for hundreds of newly arriving African migrants.
"We were at a time invisible,” said Sophie Bah Kouyate, membership and services manager at African Communities Together.
Operating under the noses of most New Yorkers, ACT has been aiding African migrants for about a decade now.
"For a lot of people - an asylum seeker, in their mind, is someone coming from South America," said Bah Kouyate.
The number of individuals seeking assistance at ACT has steadily increased in the past two years with the surge of migrants entering the city. Bah Kouyate says word of mouth is usually how they find them. "Someone will say, 'Oh, you have an organization. They speak our language because we have someone here who speaks Fulani. We have someone who will speak Mandingo. We have someone who speak Wolof, and I speak French.”
Turns out the language barrier is one of the biggest obstacles these migrants face. Bah Kouyate says a familiar voice to help them with resources is a blessing. Having staff walk migrants through the basics like applications for emergency insurance, ID cards, education and even the complex reality of applying for asylum.
“Here we educate our people. We explain to them the, you know, how it’s going to be a process, you have one year to apply for asylum and then you have to wait 150 days to apply for a work permit and then you have to wait because they need to see a judge. It’s something that is going to take time,” said Bah Kouyate.
City officials have long expressed concerns about resource strain. ACT says while this impacts the help they can give, they try to figure out a way. The group says they received a grant from Airbnb to provide temporary housing for migrants. The organization also collaborates with other city-based groups and delivers food to numerous mosques that house migrants.
"Since I come here to this center, I find my life here," said Josue, a migrant from Angola seeking asylum. Having arrived in New York City in February, Josue says he found solace at ACT, considering the staff and fellow migrants as family.
"I'm here in this country only me and my brother, but I find my mom here, I find my sister, I find everyone here," Josue expressed.
Bah Kouyate says the concept of family is what makes their organization unique. She said staff here are all African immigrants helping African immigrants. "What we tell them is to keep hope. Look at me, 15 years undocumented, and look at me now. It can be you tomorrow. Never, never lose hope," said Bah Kouyate.