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Northeast Ohio Resettlement Agencies Prepare For Influx Of Afghan Refugees

Passengers walk to the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. [Rahmat Gul / AP]
Passengers walk to the departures terminal of Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Many Northeast Ohio agencies are preparing to provide aid  as refugees flee Afghanistan. The Taliban has taken control of the capital, Kabul, following the United States government’s withdrawl of armed forces in recent months.

The events unfolding in Kabul are a tragedy, said Global Cleveland President Joe Cimperman. He’s heard from members of the local Afghan community who are concerned about the safety of family and loved ones overseas, he said.

Many Clevelanders have reached out to offer support, housing and other resources to people in need, Cimperman said.

“We’re just praying for people in Afghanistan, that they can get out,” he said, “and then hoping once they come to the United States that they can make Cleveland their home.”

The city of Cleveland has a long history of providing a home for refugees following war and famine, Cimperman said. The infrastructure needed to support Afghan resettlement is available, he said.

“We certainly have the room. We have the capacity to hire people,” he said. “We have schools that would be more than ready to receive, if there were any kids that were coming with the family.”

The federal government will determine how and when refugees are brought into the U.S., Cimperman said. That could be through a refugee program or military installation that focuses on getting people to safety and sorts out visas and citizenship later, he said.

Many aid groups were already preparing for more refugees to enter the country under the Biden administration's new immigration policies, said Refugee Response Executive Director Patrick Kearns. Some Afghan refugees are arriving this week, and resettlement agencies will likely see more over the next two to three months, he said.

“The numbers are not going to be unexpected or change to anything we weren’t planning on before,” Kearns said. “It might mean more of a quicker movement starting earlier.”

Resettlement agencies are currently focused on assisting U.S. citizens and residents who were visiting Afghanistan and now need to get home, Kearns said, as well as helping any settled refugees trying to connect with their families overseas.

“Communication is going to be a critical component for them,” Kearns said. “Having secure communications so they’re able to stay in contact with family members, that they’re able to start processing the onerous paperwork that it takes for family reunification.”

New arrivals are coming from a difficult and challenging situation, Kearns said, and will need support both from the Afghan community and with mental health as they adjust.

“There’s a well-established, very stable community here that these folks can directly connect with when they arrive,” Kearns said, “which is really a small blessing in that way, that they have that support system.”