CINCINNATI – The United States is expected to welcome around 37,000 refugees who fled Afghanistan as the US military withdrew its remaining troops from Kabul last month.
About 850 of these Afghan refugees will move to Ohio over the next few months. It is estimated that 50 will come to Greater Cincinnati.
Most refugees will never be able to return home. They are going to have to settle in a faraway country where most of them have never been and where many do not know anyone.
The federal government has assigned eight agencies across the state to assist refugees with resettlement. Tasks range from short-term goals, like finding them suitable accommodation, to more holistic things like education and vocational training.
Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio is one such organization.
The nonprofit, which is associated with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, has relocated 12,000 refugees to the area since 1980.
The refugees came from countries such as Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bhutan, Syria and Eritrea. They have only received a few from Afghanistan so far.
What is a refugee?
The United States welcomes thousands of refugees every year, but not everyone is accepted. A person has to face or fear violence or persecution because of their race, religion, political affiliation or things of that nature.
In most cases, refugees can never return home.
The following are examples of situations that can be characterized: political dissidents imprisoned and tortured or suspected undesirables; shot at demonstrators; committed genocide against a certain race; or ensures that members of a certain religion are excluded from the political process.
Even then, the US government will go so far as to say that these situations generally qualify a person for refugee status.
To resettle in this country, a person must be referred to the United States Refugee Admission Program (USRAP) of UNCHR for review. Then they have to go through background and security checks and medical evaluations. This part of the process takes at least 24 months. But the whole process takes a lot longer.
On average, refugees wait 10 years before being relocated. Less than 1% have already relocated to another country, according to Catholic Charities.
For the 37,000 Afghans currently resettled in the United States, the time frame is likely much shorter, although it could still take months.
In 2006, Congress first authorized a bipartisan humanitarian program to provide Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghans and Iraqis, which included resettlement services and lawful permanent residence for applicants and their families.
The White House recently announced the emergency relocation of tens of thousands of additional Afghan candidates to the SIV in light of the Taliban takeover of major cities in Afghanistan.
The first 30 days are important, but so are the months and years after.
Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio began planning for the arrival of new Afghan refugees as soon as President Joe Biden made his comments in August.
“Our # 1 priority is to ensure permanent housing that is safe, affordable and suitable for family size,” said Anne Scheid, director of refugee resettlement services at Catholic Charities.
Some refugees know people in the United States and may move to where their friends and family are. Their families will often help them find accommodation. This is unlikely to be the case for the newly arrived Afghan families.
Since 2016, only five Afghan families have gone through the official refugee resettlement process, according to Catholic Charities.
When searching for accommodation, Scheid said they look for properties that are not only accessible and affordable, but also, if possible, offer the benefit of having people of the same or similar culture in the house. the region.
Tony Stieritz, CEO and executive director of Catholic Charities, said these decisions are often based on existing connections.
“A lot of families are going to end up going where they can have ties or family with the United States in a particular region. That’s where we’re going to see most of these evacuees end up,” he said. he declares. “Most of the people we relocate to Cincinnati will likely be people with no particular connection to the United States. We have a small Afghan community in Cincinnati, which we have relocated to over the years.
Refugees receive cultural orientation before resettling. Some Afghan families are probably going through this process now or will be in the coming weeks.
Catholic Charities aims to make presentations with refugees as soon as possible. Stieritz said technology helps build a relationship, but face-to-face contact as soon as that person or group of people arrives in town.
Tara Dahal, a refugee from Bhutan, now sits on the board of Catholic Charities. He still remembers meeting his social worker, Megan, at the airport in Denver, Colo., Where he was initially relocated.
“The first element of any relocation process is to literally meet them when they get off the plane for the first time and set foot in the United States in their new life,” Stieritz said. “We welcome them. We provide them with everything they need to survive these early days.”
Stieritz said that after the airport, the group will travel to the family’s new home to show them around and enjoy a home-cooked meal of familiar dishes from home.
They will spend the next few days discovering their new neighborhood, meeting their neighbors and having their first experience of American life. They work with various organizations, such as food shelters, language services, and health services, as well as other nonprofits, to help get through the process.
With the essentials out of the way, Catholic Charities continues to help them adjust to their new situation. It includes everything from buying them smartphones and teaching them how 911 works, showing them how to shop at the local grocery store, and taking them for a checkup.
All of this happens in the first 90 days.
“It’s an incredible amount of work that has to take place in those first few months for someone to start their new life here,” Stieritz said. “We tap into a network of partners who want to welcome these newcomers with everything they need when they settle here. It’s fantastic to work with them. “
He added that after this initial period, they would move on to things like work programs, mentoring and language classes if needed.
“We are really trying to accompany refugees on a much longer term journey after their initial phase of resettlement. We want to help them establish a successful and fruitful life in their new city, ”said Stieritz.
The number of refugees an area receives is based on many factors, ranging from the bandwidth of resources to the population of an area.
Because Cincinnati’s Afghan population is relatively small, Catholic Charities did not expect to receive many refugees from Afghanistan. Columbus and Cleveland, which have much larger Afghan populations, host more than two-thirds of the refugees.
How to help
Catholic Charities has been preparing for months for the arrival of Afghan refugees. But there’s not much planning can do. They are expecting about 50 people, but they don’t know if they are families or individuals, or if there are other special needs at this point.
They know that a family of eight has already started the relocation process, but even then, they don’t know when they will be arriving.
“We don’t know much at this point. We could get 24 hours ‘notice that a family would be on their way. But usually when a refugee family arrives, we can get two or three weeks’ notice to go. this topic. But even then, it’s not a lot of time, “Stieritz said.
Catholic charities receive federal dollars and other support from service organizations to help administer the resettlement program and assist refugees.
But they still need help – and lots of toothbrushes, pots and pans, clothes, and other essentials.
“Resettlement requires a real community effort. Our goal is to provide refugees with everything they need upon arrival so that they can become as self-reliant as possible, ”said Stieritz.
One of the biggest problems is housing.
“It takes a lot of coordination. We always need people who might be willing to rent accommodation,” Stieritz said. “Housing is already a problem in our community, so we are always looking for good, safe and affordable options. “
Catholic charities also need volunteers to help with things like setting up new homes and transportation to and from appointments. Interpreters who speak Pashto or Dari are also in demand at the moment, Scheid said.
Moving an entire family can be expensive, and in most cases, refugee families have little more than the clothes they wear. Scheid said refugees receive a one-time government allowance of $ 1,225 per family member. The funds help them cover the first 30 to 90 days of their living expenses.
Afghans with SIV or those who have been granted parole are permitted to work legally in the United States. Catholic charities will try to help them get a job or get vocational training. Refugees are expected to start work as soon as possible.
“You know, these 50 refugees from Afghanistan are in addition to all the other refugees already waiting that we have to be prepared to resettle,” Stieritz said. “We rely on partners and the community to help us welcome our new community members. “
Those looking to help can also donate money to Catholic charities or provide gift cards to grocery stores and take-out stores to directly help families.
More information about the Southwestern Ohio Catholic Charities Resettlement Program and ways to help is available on the organization’s website.