Durham extended its melody of providing solace to the stranger this week as County Commissioners Wendy Jacobs and Nida Allam announced that the Bull City is one of several cities across the country that will soon receive an unspecified number of Afghan refugees.
“It is my understanding that we could receive up to 90 refugees in September,” Jacobs told the INDY on Wednesday. “This is a lot considering that we were only receiving a few hundred per year, total [from all over the world] in Durham in the past, typically.”
Several non-profits, including Church World Service, Lutheran Services Carolinas, and World Relief Durham have stepped up to provide support services that will include housing and translation, Jacobs said on Monday during the Board of Commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting.
“There is an urgent need for help with donations of money, items, housing, interpretation, volunteers to pick them up at the airport, showing them around the community and providing basic support as they start their new lives here,” Jacobs said.
The refugee services are spearheaded by World Relief, a religious nonprofit that has worked with over 6,5000 churches and thousands of volunteers to provide humanitarian aid in the aftermath of disasters, ethnic, racial and gender violence, extreme poverty and refugee resettlement for the past 75 years.
“Afghans coming out of the current violence in Afghanistan, like all refugees, have, by definition, endured persecution and some of the world’s worst traumatic circumstances,” Adam Clark, director of World Relief Durham told the INDY on Wednesday.
Clark said WRD has already received multiple Afghan families in the last few weeks, and he has “heard much anecdotally” about the persecution and abuse they have endured. He declined to talk about specific instances.
“They have been through it and we want to respect their suffering with compassionate action first and foremost,” he explained.
“We’re grateful to have some local partners and some resources to offer support groups and therapy to those who request it,” Clark replied when asked if the refugees will receive therapy and counseling services. “However, access to mental health services is something all refugees resettled in the U.S. need more of.”
Clark said WRD was notified “soon after the fall of Kabul that there would likely be increased numbers coming to the U.S..”
He noted the Raleigh/Durham region is among about 25 cities where Afghan Special Immigration Visa (SIV) holders are encouraged to resettle.
He said not knowing the exact number of refugees who may arrive next month is a challenge, adding “they have the freedom to go wherever they choose, so predicting numbers of people in this category that may come here must factor in this freedom.”
Clark said WRD actually welcomes between 200 to more than 300 refugees each year. The number of arrivals depends on how many are coming to the U.S. overall.
“During the previous administration, the numbers were lower than that for new refugees, but we actually served more immigrants overall the last few years than beforehand as we’ve added an immigration legal services center and a refugee and immigrant youth program working with immigrant youth directly in Durham Public Schools in partnership with [the school system].”
Clark hesitated when asked if 90 refugees are expected to arrive, noting that “at least as of today,” there is too much still being worked out at the federal level to know how many Afghans will arrive at RDU.
“Everyone,” he added, “including us, would like a clearer picture, but it is too early to predict exact numbers.”
A press statement on the World Relief website explains that it is responding to the Taliban takeover on the Afghan capital of Kabul on August 15.
“Chaos has erupted as families are unsure of their future and thousands of lives are at stake,” the release states.
The website also notes what has been widely reported here and abroad: the Afghans facing the greatest danger from the Taliban are men and women whose association with the United States now makes them fearful for their lives and the lives of their families.
The release also notes that while some Afghans have SIVs pending, they are currently trapped in Kabul where they face violence and persecution from the Taliban.
Meanwhile, WRD is readying for the refugees’ arrival by preparing housing, material goods, job opportunities, and school enrollments. The agency is also training volunteers for supportive friendships, assigning case workers, and collaborating with the health department.
WRD, Clark said, is taking “a wide variety of steps to ensure incoming families receive everything they will need to start a new chapter of their lives here in the Triangle.”
“For SIVs coming to us as a result of the situation in Afghanistan right now, this will continue to be the case. There is still ongoing discussion about how Afghan parolees may be served locally, given this status will make them ineligible for some forms of federal and state support,” he added.
Clark said the challenges WRD faces include unanswered questions about process, timelines, numbers, service and support eligibility at the state and federal level for incoming evacuated Afghans, and, of course, a perennial Bull City issue—the overall shortage of affordable housing.
Durham, Wake, and Orange counties, and many of the towns and cities within them, are among those across the United States that are recognized as “sanctuary” jurisdictions that deploy a mix of laws, ordinances, regulations, resolutions, policies, or other practices to thwart overzealous immigration enforcement.
Residents who want to help can find more information here.
Updated: An earlier version of this story misidentified the nonprofit Church World Service. It has been corrected with a link to the Durham branch of the organization’s website.
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