Eldridge: Let’s complete our moral commitment to our brave Afghan refugees

June 10, 2022 MetroWest Daily News

Ninety-five thousand Afghan individuals are expected to resettle in the U.S., including a total of 2,000 in Massachusetts, according to the The Associated Press. The federal effort to resettle Afghans in the U.S. is known as “Operation Allies Welcome.” Despite these efforts, Afghans in the U.S. today continue to experience hardships with housing, employment, and overall adaptations. Federal, state and local governments must do more to support them.

Eldridge

In late 2021, the Biden administration directed the federal government to support vulnerable Afghans, including those who aided U.S. missions over the past two decades.

Currently, the legal immigration status of Afghan refugees is under a tight clock. A bill called the "Afghan Allies Protection Act" is being considered in the U.S. Congress. It would allow Afghans who are in the country under humanitarian parole to seek a longer permanent status.

The bill serves as an extension to a 2009 program and authorizes an additional 4,000 special visas for Afghan refugees. While application and processing of these visas can take up to nine months, this federal program provides a realistic pathway for Afghan refugees and their families to move to the U.S. and maintain a permanent status.

Massachusetts has provided comprehensive aid, including $12 million in ARPA funds and additional financial support for clothing, food and housing, as well as funds for resettlement agencies. The commonwealth has also provided waivers and enhanced flexibilities, as Afghan families apply for financial assistance with the state’s Department of Transitional Assistance.

Today, resettlement agencies are working hard to help Afghan refugees. Ascentria Care Alliance partnered with local communities and organizers to develop Neighborhood Support Teams (NST) – groups of 20-30 volunteers working with a case manager to offer long-term support and build close relationships with arriving Afghans.

The Middlesex and Worcester District is home to about 200 Afghan refugees, including dozens of men and women who bravely supported our U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, at great risk to their entire families. Over the past eight months, NSTs have formed in a majority of the communities that I represent. These NSTs handle all kinds of work from finding housing, social safety net support, employment, to driving family members to doctors’ visits, schools, and even to find Halal food (food that adheres to Islamic law). 

NSTs have partnered with resettlement agencies, which have supported refugees for many decades, reflecting the contributions of mosques, churches and synagogues, municipal officials, civic groups, and local relief agencies. Proudly, my office has been working with these volunteers to support the resettlement process, including filing court documents, securing employment opportunities and connecting them to available resources.

During my visits with Afghan refugees in my district, I was pleased to meet with so many bright men and women that bring a diverse set of culture and skills to our communities. However, from our conversations, I was disheartened to hear of the many “hidden” obstacles they must overcome every day. 

Afghan refugees are facing significant barriers during their resettlement and it is our job to help them navigate this new territory through community-based programs and more permanent resources. The Ascentria Care Alliance in Worcester estimates that 200-300 people need jobs locally, and more than 65 families will need housing within the next several months. They face language and communication barriers as they attempt to assimilate into their new community.

While there are many programs in place that offer assistance, refugees can also face racism and discrimination. Relocation, separation from families, trauma and overall stress can place a significant burden on refugees’ mental health, and treatment of a mental health condition can be an overwhelming cost for arriving refugees without reliable medical insurance. 

The burden falls on us, the American people and legislators, to help Afghan refugees and their loved ones safely resettle in Massachusetts. We must act to create a safe haven for our Afghan allies, through comprehensive aid options, including financial help, employment opportunities, and housing support. Many of them have sacrificed immense amounts to help the U.S. overseas, and through collaborations with nonprofit organizations across our communities.

We have the opportunity to return the favor. Please urge your local, state and federal government leaders to marshal their forces to fully resettle Afghan refugees in Massachusetts. If you know of any employment opportunities or resources that can be of benefit to the refugee community, please contact me at James.Eldridge@MaSenate.Gov. 

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, represents the Middlesex and Worcester District in the Legislature. 

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