Using community volunteers to resettle Afghan refugees

In December, a group of Vietnamese Americans welcomed a displaced Afghan family into the Seattle community, offering a furnished home, a well-stocked refrigerator and ongoing support. Vietnamese-Americans, who were once refugees themselves, were among the first volunteers for the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghan Refugees, a new system to help resettle the tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees living on bases military in the United States.

The nine resettlement agencies that work with federal funding to resettle refugees in the United States “do not have the capacity to assist all Afghan evacuees on bases,” says Sasha Chanoff, F04, N04. “There was urgency and East an emergency, to get people out of the bases as quickly as possible.

Asking volunteer citizens to help welcome newcomers makes sense to Chanoff, the founder and CEO of RefugePoint, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based nonprofit dedicated to developing durable solutions for the country’s most vulnerable refugees. world. His organization joined the Sponsor Circle Program in October, helping to shape the program that was launched by the Department of State and Community Sponsorship Hub partners.

About 75,000 displaced Afghans have been temporarily housed on US military bases since the United States withdrew from Afghanistan last August, ending its 20-year involvement in the country. By the end of January, around 10,000 Afghans remained on bases awaiting permanent resettlement.

The Sponsor Circle program, which is private, matches displaced Afghans with a group, or circle, of at least five volunteers who have agreed to house them for at least 90 days, helping them with all the basics of integration into the living in a new country at no cost to the refugee. “Sponsorship circles must develop a resettlement action plan before being approved to move forward,” Chanoff says. He expects at least 150 circles to welcome Afghan evacuees into their communities by mid-February, and says “it could start to expand very significantly after that.”

Another non-profit organization, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, trains sponsors before their families arrive. “There’s training around mental health support,” says Chanoff. “There’s training about the expectations you want to set with people about the kind of support you can provide.”

RefugePoint staff play a unique role in the program, including working at military bases to identify Afghans to participate in the Sponsorship Circle program, explaining how it works, and helping those who are interested register. RefugePoint also connects Sponsorship Circles with Afghans and raises funds: Although the State Department initiated the Sponsorship Circle program, the agency does not fund it.

In Seattle, Vietnamese Americans who formed a sponsorship circle asked members of the local Afghan community if they knew of any Afghan refugees on bases in the United States. care. To do this, the group was vetted for security purposes and trained in resettlement best practices. Its members agreed to provide basics such as housing and food, and collected $2,275 for each displaced Afghan they sponsored.

Program leaders are recruiting more Sponsor Circles and considering how the effort is evolving. Even after the resettlement of Afghan evacuees, Chanoff says, this could play a key role in resettling displaced people from other parts of the world in the United States, to increase the country’s ability to help those who cannot return home. .

In addition to RefugePoint, coalition partners in the sponsorship circle program for Afghan refugees include Airbnb.org, the Community Sponsorship Hub, the International Rescue Committee, Integrated Refugee & Immigration Services, and Welcome.US.

Heather Beasley Doyle is a freelance writer based in Arlington, MA. Send feedback to [email protected]

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