Central Pa. resettlement groups prepare to help Afghan refugees

Written by on August 18, 2021

Central Pa. resettlement groups prepare to help Afghan refugees

By Gabriela Martinez / WITF

August 18, 2021

A woman wears a protective face mask with a message during a protest to raise awareness regarding the situation in Afghanistan outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. The European Union has no immediate plans to recognize the Taliban after their sweeping victory in Afghanistan but will talk with the militants to ensure that European nationals and Afghans who have worked with the EU can leave safely, the bloc’s top diplomat said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The U.S. is preparing for Afghan refugee arrivals after the Taliban took over the country’s government. Some refugee resettlement organizations in Central Pennsylvania are also mobilizing. 

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Church World Service in Lancaster has deployed four staff members to Fort Lee, VA to help process people seeking Special Immigration Visas, such as Afghans who worked as contractors with the U.S. military. 

“We’ve already heard from lots of community members, our existing volunteers, faith groups that regularly work with us that they are ready and excited to welcome Afghan allies to Lancaster,” said Rachel Helwig, a spokesperson for Church World Service. 

Some 2,000 Afghan refugees arrived at Fort Lee in July and are being processed for special immigration visas. Church World Service has not been assigned any cases yet, but its staff is helping identify refugees who may have family ties in the United States.

Helwig says the organization has been building its resettlement capacity since the Biden administration raised the refugee admissions ceiling to 62,500. 

The most challenging part might be securing housing in Lancaster, she said. 

International Service Center provides refugee resettlement services in Harrisburg.

The center was established in 1976 in response to Vietnamese refugees arriving in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon. Now, it plans to help people who are fleeing Afghanistan.

“Right now, we are preparing ourselves, because what we see happening in Kabul, in Afghanistan is a repeat of what happened in 1975 to Vietnam,” said Truong Phuong, executive director of the International Service Center.

Phuong says he is afraid the Taliban will try to retaliate against Afghans who were employed by the U.S. government, like in Vietnam.

International Service Center partners with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to provide resettlement services such as citizenship classes, ESL and job search support.

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