Afghan refugees put through the wringer in the US

By Surekha Vijh 

Washington, DC: When thousands of Afghan refugees kept arriving in the US after being evacuated from Kabul, the Dulles International Airport in Virginia received a bulk of them. After initial screening, they are relocated to various states. Besides the federal government, many private agencies are chipping in to help the new refugees.

According to the data released by the State Department, more than 20,000 refugees are being taken to eight military installations, chosen to temporarily host them, where they are undergoing COVID-19 testing, vaccination, medical checkups, and additional immigration processing, including applications for work permits.

The White House media relations said that the Biden administration is doing everything to resettle the refugees who are in dire need of basic amenities, including food and housing.  Many of them are facing daunting operational and legal challenges adding to the uncertainty.

Since many Afghans have landed here without proper visas, they are in grave legal limbo, ineligible for some federal social programs such as cash assistance and Medicaid available to those admitted as refugees.

Congressman Seth Moulton and Don Bacon, a bipartisan pair of former military officers, have introduced a bill known as the WELCOMED Act which would make Afghan parolees eligible for the government benefits meant for refugees.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that the State Department was doing “accountings on the back end” as Afghan evacuees arrived in the US while some have raised concerns about the vetting process. Blinken said the Biden administration was focused on getting as many individuals as possible out of Kabul safely and focusing on a quick vetting process.

Many refugee resettlement agencies are working in alliance with the feds since the rush of Afghan refugees has strained the resources. Besides those admitted to the US since the middle of August, another 39,000 evacuees remained at military bases in Europe and the Middle East, including Afghans undergoing US immigration processing and security vetting, the federal data indicated. 

Afghan refugees here are required to receive vaccines against measles, mumps, rubella, polio, and the coronavirus within seven days of being granted parole, according to a Department of Homeland Security document. They are also required to undergo tuberculosis testing.

If they fail to comply with the requirements, which also include notifying U.S. authorities of address changes and providing them requested information, Afghans could be stripped of their parole and subjected to “detention and removal” from the U.S., according to the document. Once they finish processing at the military sites, Afghan evacuees are being connected to the resettlement agencies, which are tasked with helping them find affordable housing and jobs. The agencies typically help cover refugees’ rent for up to three months while they settle down.

According to resettlement officials, it was really difficult to find permanent dwellings for evacuated Afghans, many of whom tend to relocate to communities with large Afghan populations, including northern Virginia, Northern California, and the Dallas area that have limited affordable housing. Limited housing options have prompted the resettlement agencies to work with hotel chains to secure short-term lodging. A World Relief official said his group has used hotels to house some of the more than 300 Afghan special immigrant visa holders it received in August, including those with large families.

The governors of Maryland and Virginia both reiterated that their states were “ready and willing” to take in more refugees from Afghanistan.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said, “Many of these Afghan citizens, our allies, bravely risked their lives to provide invaluable support for many years to our efforts, as interpreters and support staff, and we have a moral obligation to help them.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said more than 6,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Virginia and more are expected. He said he appreciated all the humanitarian work being done in his state right now.

Khalil Abbasi, a refugee, now living in Alexandria VA, said he was lucky to be out of Afghanistan in time. “But at what cost, we lost our home and everything… Life is not easy in the US. I miss my family. Many of them went to Europe and other countries.”

Image courtesy of (Photo courtesy AP)

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