Since the beginning of the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghan civilians have risked their lives to help our troops. The New York Times estimates over 300,000 Afghans have assisted the U.S. military, many working as combat interpreters and in other vital roles. After the Taliban closed in on Kabul airport, the U.S military scrambled to get as many U.S. citizens and Afghan allies out as possible. According to the Brookings Institute, almost 65,000 Afghan refugees were evacuated and tens of thousands more are being admitted in the coming month. Many of them traded their homes for safety in their flight from the Taliban.
Now a different problem has arisen– where to resettle the first group of around 37,000 people. As of now, about 1,300 refugees are slated to be resettled in Maryland, with Virginia close behind, taking 1,100 refugees, the AP reports.
With refugees flowing in and more on the way, some worried citizens were expecting government financial help for the refugees. In fact, during the rush of the evacuation most refugees were brought in through an immigration tool called Humanitarian Parole. According to The Wall Street Journal, legally these refugees are only entitled to about $1,200 in financial assistance from the government. While the Biden administration is working with Congress to pass a bill which aims to provide $6.4 billion in resettlement funding, independent refugee organizations are stepping in to fill the void.
That brings up the most important question yet, how can students and their families help the Afghan refugees? Well, a specific organization which needs highlighting is the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). They have always been a vital help with refugees for decades, and are currently connecting over 45,000 volunteer applications with opportunities to provide English lessons, airport pick-ups, apartment set-ups, and other critical services. In addition to their volunteer work you can download fact sheets and other tools to teach people about the refugees. Persons of any age are encouraged to write a letter to their representative urging them to support the WELCOMED Act which would have Congress provide increased aid to the refugees.
Probably the most accessible option for most people is donation. LIRS has put out an easy to understand donation option, where families can buy and pack boxes with specific home essentials such as bedding and toiletries. LIRS then uses these uniform care packages to quickly supply refugee families in need. Recently, the Freytag family donated multiple boxes of home essentials to LIRS. In an interview with the Mane News, Rachel Freytag tells us “Donating was easy, and every single newspaper I read recommended them as one of several organizations. I then talked to my congressman’s office, and they suggested that I use them [LIRS] because they have been doing [refugee service] for so long and so well.” When asked about possible ulterior motivations for a religious organization to help people of another religion, she replied “They don’t try to force their beliefs on anyone or evangelize in any way, they keep it completely separate.” Another great organization is called No One Left Behind, it was founded by veteran 1st Lt. US Army National Guard intelligence officer Matt Zeller and is dedicated to helping former Afghan and Iraqi interpreters with their immigrant application process and eventual resettlement in the US. He started the organization after his life was saved by an Afghan translator during his tour of duty. When prompted with Matt Zeller’s story, Ms. Freytag replied “Matt Zeller was my inspiration for everything. He convinced me to write to all my Congressional representatives, donate, and do everything I could. I donated to Women for Afghan Women and asked for all my birthday presents to be donations to the refugees. One thing you could do when people ask you what you want for your birthday, [is] give them the link to LIRS and ask them to donate there.”
Some other refugee service organizations to consider are the International Rescue Committee and World Relief, which both do global humanitarian aid extending from people upended by war and natural disasters to providing resources to countries recovering from a crisis. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which is based in Silver Spring, Maryland, and puts an emphasis on helping refugees. Finally, Church World Service, which is based in Washington, DC. They are on the ground at Fort Lee, helping to resettle refugees throughout Virginia and the United States. Whichever organization you choose to assist, remember Matt Zeller’s words, “[…] we have a profound moral obligation to keep our promise and save these people”
Henry Freytag ’24