Oregon to host around 180 Afghan refugees as resettlement groups scramble to prepare

Oregon will host about 180 Afghan refugees over the next few months, the Biden administration told Gov. Kate Brown’s office earlier this month.

The refugees are being treated at military bases across the country and will arrive in their respective states in the coming weeks, said Salah Ansary, regional director of Northwestern Lutheran Community Services.

The agency is one of three federally contracted refugee resettlement groups in Oregon, with Oregon Catholic Charities and Oregon Ecumenical Ministries.

The number of refugees coming to Oregon is small compared to California, which will receive 5,255, most of the country. Next is Texas with 4,481 states, while a handful of states, including Wyoming and South Dakota, will not relocate. Refugees are often sent to places with strong Afghan communities that can help them acclimatize to their new life.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Afghanistan in recent months as the United States completed its military withdrawal from the country and the Taliban took power.

The resurgence of the religious militant group has many Afghans fearful of a return to an era of oppressive rule and draconian adherence to Islamic jurisprudence that has led to thousands of killings and effectively removed women from the public sphere.

Women leaders and activists, human rights activists, journalists and those who have worked for the U.S. military during the past 20 years of military occupation fear reprisals against themselves and their families.

Ansary, who was born and raised in Afghanistan, recalls her own trip to the United States after a coup in 1978 that led to her country being invaded by the Soviet Union.

“I never thought that after 43 years I would be faced with this incredible, tragic again – on the side of welcoming refugees from Afghanistan,” Ansary said.

The Biden administration has funding requested Congress to help resettle 65,000 Afghans in the United States by the end of September and 30,000 more over the following year. This recent refugee allowance for Oregon ends in late March 2022, the governor’s office said.

The majority of Afghan refugees are in the United States because humanitarian parolees rather than having official refugee status. The designation allows people to legally enter the country on urgent humanitarian grounds and stay there for two years.

Other types of visa applications can take years and often require individuals to first escape to another country before coming to the United States.

The biggest needs of resettlement agencies are cash donations and long-term housing options, Ansary said.

The fee for applying for humanitarian parole is $ 575, which is a huge financial barrier for many Afghans – a family of five is expected to pay close to $ 3,000. Applicants can request a fee waiver.

And unlike Afghans with formal refugee status, parolees will only receive a one-time allowance of about $ 1,250 and will not receive federal assistance after the first 90 days, Ansary said. They do not have a legal route to a longer-term immigration visa and will not have access to any of the medical, counseling and other public benefits that refugees would normally need.

“They say, ‘OK, you don’t qualify for any of this federally funded aid, but your other fellow refugee who comes from another country qualifies,” “Ansary said.

Ansary said her agency’s cooperation agreement with the State Department indicates the program is “partially funded,” a recognition that the federal government is not providing enough.

“The hope is that these communities will then provide the kind of resources that people need,” said Ansary.

AirBnb provides short-term housing support, and resettlement agencies say they are looking for landlords willing to rent to refugees and people with secondary suites who may be able to accommodate long-term refugees.

Lutheran Community Services Northwest is also seeking storage space in the Vancouver and Portland areas to house donated items as they are currently full and unable to collect more furniture or household items donations.

The Refugee Care Collective, a local organization that works with resettlement agencies, has raised more than $ 82,000 in the last fundraiser to support the Afghan families who arrive.

The funds will go towards emergency housing, restart kits filled with essential household items, gift cards for food and mentoring for families and youth, among other services, said Megan Cegla, executive director and co-founder of the organization.

“The most important thing we need now are people who will enjoy coming alongside our new neighbors long after the headlines,” Cegla said. “It will take years for those arriving from Afghanistan and other countries to rebuild their lives.

Cegla said his group was already working to help a few Afghan families settle in the area. Most are special immigrant visa holders whose applications were already underway when they evacuated from Afghanistan and were able to be processed faster than most refugees.

Oregon is just one of three states in the country that allocate public funds for refugee resettlement.

“When the previous administration’s efforts to reduce refugee resettlement had a direct impact on the services they were able to access, Oregon stepped in and recognized that the right thing to do was to ensure that these services were available, ”said Matthew Westerbeck, director of refugee services at Catholic Charities of Oregon.

His agency has seen a sharp decrease in the number of resettled refugees in recent years, from 589 in 2016 to just 66 in 2020.

The refugee cap was increased to 62,500 per year by President Joe Biden in May. President Donald Trump previously set the annual limit at 15,000 refugees.

Oregon refugee services are growing just in time, as Salem for Refugees and the Portland-based Community Immigrant and Refugee Organization will soon join the other three organizations as recognized refugee resettlement agencies. federal government, Westerbeck said.

Westerbeck said he and other agencies were continually in conversation with State Senator Kayse Jama, State Representative Khan Pham as well as Governor Kate Brown’s office to determine the necessary resources.

Organizations are preparing for the arrival of a unique influx of refugees in the coming months, which will require community mobilization and support.

“Refugee resettlement is usually not geared towards a specific response… it’s year after year,” Westerbeck said. “This is a different type of response because it is so specific to a very short timeline, and the timeline reflects the need to serve these people here and help them rebuild their lives.”

– Jaimie Ding

[email protected]; 503-221-4395; @j_dingdingding

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