Two refugee resettlement agencies say they expect about 125 Afghans who were evacuated after the Taliban took over their homeland to be resettled in New Hampshire.
Ascentria Care Alliance in Concord expects to resettle about 100 Afghan evacuees, according to Crissie Ferrara, New Hampshire program manager for that agency’s Services for New Americans program.
Ferrara just returned from an American military base where she was helping to process arrivals from Afghanistan (she was not allowed to say where she was).
What struck her most about the Afghans she met was “the relief that they were safe,” she said.
“Many people were really scared for their lives and for their safety, for themselves and their families, and they felt this was the best option for them, and the only option to keep their families safe,” she said.
Through a translator, Ferrara welcomed the newcomers to the United States: “I’m very happy you’re here.”
And with that, nervous faces would break into smiles, she said. “And they would just respond, ‘Thank you so much. We’re so happy to be here.’”
Emma Tobin, chief program officer at the International Institute of New England, said her agency is proposing to resettle up to 25 Afghans in Manchester and Nashua.
That’s in addition to about 150 evacuees who will find new homes in Massachusetts, primarily in Lowell, which has a thriving Afghan community, Tobin said.
Agencies don’t know a lot about those they will be helping to settle here, Tobin said, but she expects some have high levels of education and are fluent in English.
Unlike many refugees who come to the United States from camps in other countries, however, she said, “They may also arrive with literally no belongings because they fled,” she said.
The International Institute has hired two new staff members and is mobilizing dozens of volunteers to be ready when word comes that the Afghans are arriving, Tobin said.
Just when that will be is uncertain.
The evacuees are not refugees; their legal status is technically defined as “humanitarian parolees,” Ascentria’s Ferrara said. “That means they’re not qualifying for all of the benefits that refugees would normally get, so that’s one of our challenges.”
There has been talk in Congress about allocating funds to support Afghan evacuees, Ferrara said. “We’re waiting with bated breath on the edge of our seats to see what they’re going to come up with,” she said. “It’s changing every day.”
The agency recently got word that the Afghan children will be eligible for food stamps, which will help, she said.
IINE’s Tobin said resettlement agencies are lobbying government officials for increased support for these individuals. “But for now we’re really preparing to support them with private resources.”
Tobin said her agency has been getting numerous offers for help.
“People are reaching out with every kind of idea under the sun,” she said. “It feels to me like the communities where we work are really welcoming of Afghan evacuees.”
Ferrara said her office, too, has been getting calls.
For those who want to help, cash donations and gift cards are always appreciated, she said. Once the newcomers arrive, volunteers also will be needed to drive them to medical and school appointments.
She’s hoping to set up a “circle of care” sponsorship program, where local residents volunteer to support individual families after they arrive. And she plans to reach out to the local mosque, other churches, veterans and other groups to enlist their help.
Ascentria hopes to resettle the newcomers in Concord, close to medical and social services, Ferrara said. But if they can’t find enough affordable housing, they may have to resettle some in Manchester or Nashua as well.
That’s another area where the community may be able to help.
“We are looking for people who have empty houses or second homes or apartments that they want to rent at a reasonable rate,” she said. “Those are the things we’re in most need of right now.”
Concord has only a small Afghan community right now, Ferrara said, but she hopes that’s about to change. “We’re hoping that the arrivals that we do get will choose to stay in Concord and create a home and create a community here,” she said. “That would be great for culturally enriching our city and our state, as well as adding to the workforce.”
The plight of Afghan evacuees has touched the hearts of many Americans.
Ferrara, whose brother served in Afghanistan with the U.S. military, said after 20 years of American involvement in that country, people here are moved to help those who have fled.
“I think there’s a lot of emotional connection in that way for a lot of people, and a lot of sadness to see it end the way it did,” she said. “And deep concern and worry about the people of Afghanistan.”
“I think many Americans feel some sense of responsibility,” she said. “These are our allies.”