In the middle of the worst pandemic in a century, communities around the country are welcoming at least 70,000 Afghans to the United States. Our organizations, Ascentria Care Alliance and the International Institute of New England (IINE), expect to resettle more than 200 Afghans in the Granite State by the middle of February, nearly three times as many refugees as New Hampshire welcomed in all of last year.
The experiences of Afghan evacuees are a sobering reminder of the trauma refugees face when fleeing their home countries. In their evacuations, Afghans in our services left everything behind — homes, personal possessions, friends and family. They worry about loved ones living in a nation that is quickly becoming the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.
According to the United Nations, conditions in Afghanistan are driving millions of people to famine, only 17% of the country’s health clinics are functional, and the UN projects that all but 3% of the country’s population will be living below the international poverty line by the middle of 2022.
Our organizations are helping evacuated Afghans transition to new lives and a fresh start in the United States while they recover from threats to their lives and displacement. Partnering with volunteers and community leaders, our teams are working tirelessly to find Afghan families homes and apartments, enroll them in public benefits and healthcare programs, ensure access to mental health support, prepare their children for school, teach them English and a new culture, and introduce them to a job market eager for new talent.
While this effort has put a tremendous strain on the resources of our agencies, it has also highlighted the goodwill within our communities, government agencies and philanthropic organizations. This fall, as the state determined how best to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, Gov. Chris Sununu and his staff studied the needs of our clients who arrive with no income and proposed to fund new positions in our agencies to help Afghan evacuees secure housing and access rental assistance funds. With the support of the Legislative Fiscal Committee and the Executive Council, it became a reality. The practical solution the governor came up with and the bipartisan support that followed is a model for the rest of the nation.
The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation has provided significant funding from its donors, and several community groups have formed around the state to provide wrap-around care to complement the work of our resettlement teams. Faith organizations have donated funds, some community members have made their homes available, and people of varied backgrounds have contributed goods, gift cards and much more.
Embracing and welcoming new neighbors is a fundamental part of our national character. Every group that comes to this country stands on the shoulders of the immigrants that have come before them and makes economic and cultural contributions that create a stronger and more vibrant nation. Over time, our new friends from Afghanistan will do the same.
On behalf of the Afghans whom we have come to know and respect, we thank the residents and leaders of New Hampshire for welcoming them at the most difficult moment of their lives.
(Crissie Ferrara is the program manager for Services for New Americans at Ascentria Care Alliance. Henry Harris, MSW, is the managing director of the New Hampshire office of the International Institute of New England.)