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Catholic Charities Readies to Assist Afghan Refugees

Refugee children after the collapse of Kabul, Afghanistan, August 1 2021, by the Taliban Credit: Shutterstock
Refugee children after the collapse of Kabul, Afghanistan, August 1 2021, by the Taliban
Credit: Shutterstock

By Peter Feuerherd

Catholic Charities continues to resettle Afghan refugees, assisting two families and a single man who arrived in the United States this month.  It’s work that is sure to intensify with thousands fleeing the country as the Taliban strengthen their grip after more than 20 years of war. Those who want to contribute to the effort are asked to make donations to the Catholic Charities Emergency Relief Fund.

The three cases, said Mario Russell, Director of Immigration and Refugee Services, include Afghans who assisted U.S. and coalition forces, and were in process before the Taliban takeover. Catholic Charities is one of three agencies assisting resettlement efforts in the New York metropolitan area.

“This is not a rush job. But the process is being expedited," he said.

According to Mr. Russell, one Afghan refugee family of seven is temporarily living with family members in Rockaway, Queens; a single man has joined family on Long Island, and another family of five just recently arrived and settled in North Bay Shore, Long Island.

“It will be a hard adjustment for the children,” said Mr. Russell, who noted the process of familiarizing them with life in America. Another concern is matching adults with jobs. Catholic Charities has a long history of refugee resettlement, including the effort in the 1970s that resettled hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and others from Southeast Asia after the end of the Vietnam War and those who fled Bosnia and the former Soviet Union.

“We will be successful. This is what we do,” said Mr. Russell.

Refugees are being allowed into the U.S. as the result of legislation passed by Congress offering refuge for Afghans and their families who assisted the American government during the war. They include translators, drivers, fixers, as well as those who worked in maintenance and other jobs for the U.S. military. They are described as Special Immigrant Visa holders.

Those who will resettle in the New York metropolitan area will likely be those who are connected to family members already here, said Mr. Russell.

The basic needs of resettlement, including furniture and locating affordable rental properties, are best met by cash donations. “It will go straight to them,” said Mr. Russell. The agency could also use affordable housing sites in the metropolitan area.

Kelly Agnew-Barajas, Director of Resettlement, noted that Catholic Charities of New York is involved with 600-700 people in the area who have been resettled as refugees. About 40 of those fled Afghanistan. As the situation in the country deteriorated, the process has been expedited. What used to take months is now being done in a few days, she said.

“We are likely to be asked to increase our capacity,” she said. Refugee resettlement was curtailed during the Trump Administration and is now in the process of being rebooted. At the moment, she said during an Aug. 19 interview, an estimated 30,000 Afghans are expected to enter the country as refugees under the special visa program. She cited a particular need for housing, particularly for Afghan families, which are often considered large by American standards.

“This is a critical moment,” said Mr. Russell. He said there is a “profound moral and social obligation” to provide for Afghans who helped the United States and are now at risk.