Area groups brace for influx of Afghan evacuees

  • People wait for their departure at a hangar of the Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, Aug. 30. The largest American military community overseas houses thousands Afghan evacuees in a tent city at the airbase. AP FILE PHOTO

  • An U.S. soldier plays with recently evacuated Afghan children at the Ramstein U.S. Air Base, Germany, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.The largest American military community overseas housed thousands Afghan evacuees in an increasingly crowded tent city. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) Matthias Schrader

  • U.S. airmen and Marines guide evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 21. U.S. AIR FORCE VIA AP

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2021 7:59:45 PM

NORTHAMPTON — More than 300 Afghan evacuees and Special Immigrant Visa holders may be resettling in the Pioneer Valley in the coming weeks.

That’s according to Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, the executive director of Springfield’s Catholic Charities, who confirmed Wednesday that her organization expects to be working with 60 Afghan arrivals to the Hampshire County area.

Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts is anticipating 150 arrivals in the Springfield area, and Ascentria Care Alliance is expecting an unspecified number of arrivals in West Springfield, according to an email that the Pioneer Valley Interfaith Refugee Action Group recently sent to its members and supporters. Efforts to reach both groups were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Buckley-Brawner said it is safe to say more than 300 Afghans will be coming to the area.

“This is in the beginning stages,” Buckley-Brawner said. “What we do know is that the Department of State has said that it will be allocating Afgan evacuees to their resettlement agencies per their requested numbers over the next seven months.”

Two decades after invading Afghanistan, the United States last month pulled out of what was the longest war in U.S. history. As the Taliban entered the capital of Kabul and solidified its control of the country, a large number of Afghans have left with hopes of receiving refugee status in the United States and elsewhere.

Last week, the federal government was housing some 20,000 Afghan refugees at military bases inside the United States and another 40,000 at overseas bases awaiting processing, according to reporting by CBS News.

The Gazette was unable to reach the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants to determine how many evacuees may end up in Massachusetts.

In Hampshire County, though, many residents are reportedly already looking for ways to help out.

“We’ve received an outpouring from constituents asking how they can help any refugees coming to the area,” state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, said Wednesday.

Buckley-Brawner said most of those arriving will be evacuees who will be applying for asylum before they can receive the benefits afforded to those with refugee status. Also resettling in western Massachusetts will be some holders of Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs, intended for those who worked with U.S. Armed Forces or served as translators or interpreters in Afghanistan or Iraq. SIV holders are eligible for the same benefits as refugees.

Evacuees from Afghanistan will likely be arriving with very little, having been airlifted from the country in a panic, Buckley-Brawner said. They will be eligible to immediately apply for employment authorization allowing them to work in the country.

“We will have to work doubly hard to try to get them employed as quickly as possible so we can begin an income stream for them,” she said.

In addition to employment, one of the biggest challenges that refugee resettlement organizations face is finding housing for arrivals. Buckley-Brawner said Catholic Charities will be seeking places for the Afghan arrivals to stay, either permanently or temporarily for 30 to 90 days while transitioning into their own place. Though it would be great to house all of those people in the same area near each other, that won’t be possible due to a lack of suitable housing and a desire not to create housing shortages, she said.

“We’re going to need landlords who are compassionate and open to working with us to provide housing for people who are pretty desperate for housing,” Buckley-Brawner said. “People who can connect us to employers who are willing to hire Afghans who might have limited English.”

Catholic Charities is seeking volunteers to join “circles of care” — groups that help a family or household with everything from friendship and English-language practice to answering questions about the area. The organization is also looking for monetary donations so they can buy time for the new arrivals as they look for jobs and get accustomed to their new homes.

“They will be calling western Mass. home,” Buckley-Brawner said. “There are parts of western Massachusetts that are beautifully designed to be that welcoming community that people are going to need and to provide that compassionate, understanding care that these folks will need. They’ve gone through tremendous trauma.”

Those looking to help can visit the website, Buckley-Brawner said.

Sabadosa said she is not certain how many Afghans will be arriving in Massachusetts in total. She said her office is focused on making sure federal and state funding is distributed quickly and appropriately.

“We’ve been at war in Afghanistan for 20 years,” she said. “I do think we do have a moral obligation to help.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at
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