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As Afghan Families Flee Taliban Rule, Chicago Agencies Mobilize To Help Them Settle Here: ‘We Want To Do What’s Right’

Four groups are working to settle families locally. Afghan refugees are expected to arrive within a few weeks.

RefugeeOne is working with other resettlement organizations to welcome Afghan families to Chicago.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Four local agencies are working to make sure Afghan refugees who settle in Chicago feel at home.

Afghan refugees likely will arrive in Chicago in a few weeks, said Jims Porter, communications and advocacy manager at RefugeeOne. In the meantime, the agency has six staff members “on call” to head to Fort Lee, Virginia, where the United States is working with Afghans who have managed to flee the country.

The West Ridge-based agency has already signed on to help three Afghan families move to Chicago and has the capacity to help many more.

“We’re starting to see Afghan arrivals pick up. We’re expecting to see a surge,” Porter said. “We definitely have the capacity to take in more, and we want to do what’s right for our Afghan allies.”

The United States is withdrawing from Afghanistan to end a 20-year war — but amid the power gap, the Taliban quickly seized power.

Afghans who helped the United States have been targeted for violence by the Taliban. In response, the U.S. government started a special immigrant visa process for them, but at least 18,000 Afghans have applications pending, according to The New York Times.

About 2,000 Afghan nationals have left the country for the United States since the Taliban’s takeover, landing at Fort Lee, The New York Times reported. Some have already made it to Chicago.

Heartland Alliance has settled and aided people from Afghanistan in the past two weeks, the agency said in a statement. The group can help many more and is calling on the international community to aid in the resettlement process.

“My heart goes out to the people of Afghanistan who were already suffering through multiple crises, including mass displacement, a severe drought and another wave of COVID-19,” Heartland Alliance President Evelyn Diaz said in a statement. “We urge the international community to act swiftly to ensure human rights protections for all Afghans.”

Catholic Charities and World Relief Chicagoland are also involved in resettling Afghan nationals.

The local agencies belong to national refugee aid groups, which contract with the State Department to assist in resettlement.

When RefugeeOne is matched with a family, it finds them an apartment, furnishes it and stocks it with food and household items to last a month. The agency provides the family with a first meal in their new country and offers mental and physical health screenings, plus help with language, education and social services, Porter said.

The United States must help Afghans who worked with Americans and now face violence and death, Porter said.

“We think it’s our responsibility and our moral obligation to help those people who served the U.S.,” he said. “We want to make sure they have safety, which won’t happen in Afghanistan.”

There are ways Chicago residents can help. World Relief Chicagoland’s Helping Our Afghan Allies site shows how neighbors can volunteer, donate or advocate for resettlement efforts.

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