Refugee resettlement organizations are scrambling to prepare for an influx of Afghan refugees as the U.S. works to process the thousands seeking asylum.
When refugees arrive, resettlement nonprofits shoulder the mammoth task of integrating them within communities. That means coordinating things such as finding them housing and employment, signing them up for English classes and enrolling children in local schools.
The federal government offers only a short 90-day period of assistance and nonprofit organizations are looking at the long term.
During an address to the nation Tuesday about the official ending of the decades-long war in Afghanistan, Biden touted a staggering 120,000 people evacuated before U.S. troops left the country for good.
While only a comparatively small number of Afghan nationals will be resettled in Georgia, refugee resettlement nonprofits are worried they’ll have nowhere for them to live.
Inspiritus, one of the resettlement agencies in Atlanta contracted with the U.S. Department of State to aid asylum seekers, has been working to resettle refugees in Atlanta and Savannah for more than three decades.
Aimee Zangandou, director of refugee and immigration services for the nonprofit, said that the week before the Taliban takeover of Kabul, Inspiritus was set to accept 14 Afghan refugees. Since the Taliban took control of the city, those refugees still have yet to arrive.
Now, the organization is preparing to accept 200 Afghan refugees in the next six months — 50 in Savannah and 150 in Atlanta — in addition to the regular flow of refugees from other parts of the world. According to the Refugee Processing Center, Georgia took in 213 refugees from October 2020 through July 2021, including 19 from Afghanistan.
“We’ve heard from our federal partners assuring us that there will be resources that will be provided,” she said. “We haven’t seen that coming, but we are hoping that there will be resources beyond the normal funding.”
Most of the refugees coming from Afghanistan are being processed through special immigrant visas that are dedicated for Afghan nationals who aided the U.S. government during the war.
Under the Trump administration, Zangandou said, a very small number of the special visas and immigrant visas overall were processed.
“The SIV program was almost at a halt,” she said. “We haven’t seen too many of them coming. So what we’re seeing now is this scramble of trying to process as many people as possible because they haven’t been in the process for the past four years.”
The No. 1 concern for resettlement agencies prepping for the imminent wave of refugees: housing. Zangandou said they are struggling to find potential places for refugees to stay and are looking for apartment complexes or landlords willing to help out.
The timing is tricky as thousands of Georgians face eviction after the federal moratorium has ended.
“Our greatest need is making sure that they have an apartment, a house once they get here,” she said. And that’s what we’re focusing on at this point.”
This story comes to The Current through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.