Afghan nationals seeking refuge on American soil are finding respite through archdiocesan Catholic Charities.
New York state officials anticipate more than 1,100 Afghan nationals will resettle in the state, with 240 individuals relocating to the New York City area by March, according to Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities serves as one of three agencies assisting resettlement efforts in the New York metropolitan area. As with other groups arriving in New York, Catholic Charities is providing resettlement assistance to many of the arriving individuals, including unaccompanied minors.
That assistance includes providing legal advice and for those with refugee status or with a Special Immigrant Visa, help with finding a home, a job, accessing financial services, placement of children into schools and financial aid.
Mario Russell, director of Catholic Charities Immigrant and Refugee Services, recently spoke with CNY about their plight.
“This is a unique moment in history,” he said. “This is a unique moment in our shared experience as human beings to be present to and welcome people and families who’ve really suffered and experienced incredibly difficult hardships and violence, and are looking for assistance.”
Russell described the families as those who have done “extraordinary things in their home countries, have risked themselves, have brought themselves forward, have stood up for their rights and the rights of women and young girls.”
They have made a difference and tried to make a difference in a country that has been so affected and suffering for so many years, he added.
“For us here in New York, for us as a Catholic Charities, and for us as a Catholic Church, we hold this as a moment to stand up and stand forward and stand with these brothers and sisters who really are just looking for an opportunity to continue what were and will be good lives.”
From mid-August through the early part of September, Catholic Charities helped resettle three families, totaling about 15 people, he said. They are what are called Special Immigrant Visa families, those who received particularly designed immigration status because of their help with the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
In mid-October, when CNY spoke with Russell, Catholic Charities of the archdiocese was receiving those who have neither refugee status nor Special Immigrant Visa status, but were evacuated from Afghanistan with no status—and had been living on a U.S. military base for several weeks. They were then being gradually moved from the bases and assigned to various resettlement agencies throughout the United States, Catholic Charities among them.
“We have been recently referred seven families, totaling about 17 people,” Russell said.
Russell, at that time, had recently visited two military bases: Fort Pickett in southern Virginia and what is still commonly known as Fort Dix in New Jersey. He said he was helping “our United States Catholic Conference partners to build some of the legal orientation and resettlement orientation systems that are so important in those bases, to give information and guidance to people.”
In speaking with numerous families and individuals there in need of help, he learned that almost all had worked with or assisted the U.S. forces in some capacity, including as translators, drivers or in administrative support, “people who could navigate social and cultural situations” as the United States was in Afghanistan for 20 years, “risking themselves, rising the safety of their families; in that sense, really sacrificing a lot.”
These are people who, Russell said, “our government rightly understood...at the airport in Kabul, that they needed protection…They put forward themselves to build a better world and, in that sense, we have a global obligation to continue to build that better world...It includes now helping them to resettle into new lives here.”