Starting in mid-August, as Kabul fell to the Taliban, the United States government scrambled to evacuate as many people as they could before the August 31 deadline. Most of these people were evacuated to third nations, from Albania to Uganda and lots of countries in between. We are still trying to get a better understanding of who is in each place.
The latest estimates are that more than 75,000 Afghans will be resettled in the United States in the next six months. CWS has been approved to welcome more than 3,400 of them, and that number will likely go up as we enter a new federal fiscal year in October. We anticipate that we will welcome especially large numbers of Afghans in places where there are already established Afghan communities and where they can most comfortably and easily settle into life in the United States.
Some of the people who were evacuated are eligible for the U.S. refugee and special immigrant visa programs. Most of the people, however, will be arriving under humanitarian visas. This is an emergency designation that the U.S. government authorized in this situation, and we commend the Biden administration for using it widely. However, it does come with challenges. These arrivals’ humanitarian evacuee status will last for two years, and then most will need to apply for asylum. Adding more than 75,000 people to the asylum program will be a problem if our ability to welcome asylum seekers isn’t expanded significantly and soon. Additionally, humanitarian evacuees are not eligible for the same benefits as people coming through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, despite having the same needs and backgrounds as refugees.
Here at CWS, our team has been resettling Afghan refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders for more than a decade; this is not new for us. In July and early August, for example, we welcomed about 300 special immigrant visa holders. We had been working with these new neighbors for months before they arrived.
The biggest needs as we rapidly expand this work are access to housing and health care, along with the staffing for case management to support these needs. Many of the communities where these Afghan families are heading are already facing a housing shortage. Likewise, affordable healthcare is critical for the well-being of arriving families.
The coming months will test one of the core principles that America was built on: welcome. CWS teams across the country–and our community, faith, government and nonprofit partners–will do our best to give newly-arriving Afghans the best start we can as they settle into their new lives. But the needs are too great for us to do it alone. Please consider donating, advocating or getting involved.