There has been a groundswell of community support throughout New England to evacuate Afghan refugees and those granted Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) protection following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
We’re heartened by this support as we all see this tragedy playing out in real-time. Who among us didn’t feel the Afghans’ pain as we watched them clinging to the U.S. military transport plane trying to take off from Kabul Airport? We must take whatever action is needed to safely evacuate these people as quickly as possible. Ascentria Care Alliance and International Institute of New England (IINE) stand ready to assist in the effort as best we can.
There are, however, challenges in making this happen. The last four years of dramatically increased restrictions and reduced refugee admissions have left many agencies with inadequate staffing due to reduced federal funding. We are gradually rebuilding our New Hampshire resettlement program, but funding is scarce, so it’s a slower process than we would like.
Another serious challenge to resettlement is the lack of affordable housing. When we resettle refugees, we do it with the intent of helping them become financially self-sufficient. The scarcity of affordable housing in many New Hampshire cities and towns is contributing to financially untenable situations. The impossible cost of housing will force refugees to leave the Granite State and move to more affordable parts of the country. We are anxious to partner with others to make more affordable housing available to keep these people in our communities as this is a loss we cannot afford.
As we face a growing workforce shortage, new refugees are critical to filling the gaps. Many businesses and nonprofits are struggling to remain viable given significant worker shortages and historically, refugees have been more than capable of filling these positions. Working with new arrivals to improve their professional and language skills, we must keep the pipeline of new refugees from Afghanistan and other countries open, doing our part in the global humanitarian effort and supporting our economic growth here at home.
As we move forward, hopeful of renewed community and political support, Ascentria and IINE will continue to support and empower refugees as a part of our mission, as we have been for over 25 years. We call on our community partners to continue to not only rally around our Afghan brothers and sisters but rally in support of people from Syria, the Republic of Congo, Ukraine, Iraq and all others who seek legal refuge in our country.
We also call on the legislature to make a tangible investment in the resettlement infrastructure here in New Hampshire, using federal ARPA funding or state budget surplus. We become better communities and develop a stronger economic base when we embrace and welcome all people.
(Jeffrey Kinney is chief of strategic development for Ascentria Care Alliance. Jeff Thielman is president & CEO of International Institute of New England.)
Learn how you can help welcome Afghans to Massachusetts and New Hampshire here.