Refugees evacuated in the last days of the U.S. war in Afghanistan are being resettled across the country, and between September 2021 and March 2022, roughly 100 will be coming to Alaska.
“Most of them will be resettlement with us in Anchorage because it’s closer to where our services are,” said Lisa Aquino, CEO of Catholic Social Services, the local agency that helps with refugee resettlement. “We have one household so far with more coming in the coming months. We’ll get that hundred number over the course of six months.”
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement works with local agencies to coordinated resettlement in various states. Aquino told the Empire in a phone interview Wednesday CSS has helped resettle refugees in Alaska from all over the world.
Refugees with family connections might be resettled in other parts of the state, Aquino said, but most would likely be settled in Anchorage.
Before refugees are resettled they’re sent to military bases where service organizations like the American Red Cross try to help them with supplies and other needs. Juneau resident Kate Troll is a volunteer with the American Red Cross of Alaska and was recently deployed to Fort McCoy. Wisconsin, where she spent two weeks helping to distribute supplies to refugees.
The Washington Post reported there were nearly 13,000 refugees at Fort McCoy, and the Red Cross had set up Community Care Centers on base to distribute supplies, like toiletries, to Afghans. Troll’s station was working with families with young children, she said, and was open for 16 hours a day distributing things like blankets, diapers and baby formula.
Troll, a former City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member, has volunteered with the Red Cross before but said the deployment to Fort McCoy was the most meaningful of her career.
Every day there were thousands of children playing together, she said, some of whom had managed to make swings from the Red Cross blankets.
“Overall, I found that the people were appreciative and polite,” Troll told the Empire in an interview Wednesday. “These are people that want to get out and start a life.”
Many Afghans had to leave Kabul as quickly as possible, Troll said, and were not able to take much more than the clothes on their backs. Volunteers got requests for underwear, Troll said, which isn’t something the Red Cross typically provides.
Despite the long hours, Troll said the work felt good to help people fulfill their basic needs.
“I have a surgically repaired knee,” Troll said, “My knee would swell but so would my heart.”
Afghan evacuees go through a Department of Homeland Security-coordinated process of security vetting before being admitted, according to the Associated Press, and every evacuee who comes into the United States also goes through health screening. Evacuees who are 12 and older are required to get the COVID-19 vaccination as a term of their humanitarian parolee status after entering the country.
The Biden administration has requested funding from Congress to help resettle 65,000 Afghans in the United States by the end of September and 95,000 by September 2022, AP reported. States with a historically large number of Afghans who resettled in the U.S. over the last 20 years — including California, Maryland, Texas and Virginia — are again welcoming a disproportionate number of evacuees, according to the State Department data obtained by AP. Many gravitate to northern Virginia, the Maryland suburbs of D.C. and northern California — some of the most expensive housing markets in the country.
Aquino said CSS has already received a large show of support from the community, with many local organizations offering services of various kinds. Catholic Social Services has a wishlist of needed items available on their website which can be purchased for the organization.
Though a Catholic organization, Aquino said CSS does not proselytize and there is no religious requirement to receive services.
“This is not about asking anyone to join any house of worship,” Aquino said. “This is something that unites us all, we all come together when we see people in trouble.”
Donations to Catholic Social Services’ refugee program can be made at cssalaska.org.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.