More Than 30 Afghan Refugees Now With Their Families In Cleveland

Two women, dressed in white and holding sunflowers, hold up a handmade sign that reads, "Refugees Welcome."
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As the U.S. continues its chaotic and increasingly dangerous withdrawal of Americans and Afghans from the airport in Kabul, there's news that more than 30 Afghan refugees are now here in Cleveland. Global Cleveland has been working with local resettlement agencies to welcome Afghan refugees to Cleveland. Ideastream Public Media’s “Morning Edition” host Amy Eddings spoke with its president, Joe Cimperman.

So, you told Cleveland.com more than 30 Afghan refugees are here. You don't have an exact number?

Well, they’ve been coming for the past 20 years through the great work of US Together, Catholic Charities and USCRI (the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ Cleveland Field Office), our three resettlement agencies. The reason why Cleveland has been on the list for now over a decade of being one of the 19 cities to accept people from Afghanistan is because we’ve got a community of over 500 in the city of Cleveland and close to 2,000 in the region. These families are arriving. They’re coming all the time. They’re coming to meet their families, and our hope is that we can get as many people as possible out of Kabul and into the loving arms of the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

But right now 30 is a rough number for, what, just this past week of arrivals?

Exactly. You know, there’s no way to know exactly how many are going to come. Remember, there’s third-country places where people are right now, and military bases. There are folks in Dallas, Texas, Virginia, New Jersey. And we’re just hoping that with everything that’s been happening and the way that our great refugee resettlement agencies have been working and the support of this community, that we can welcome up to 2,000 people. You know, our infrastructure can sustain it. We’ve got so many people that want to say, ‘Welcome home,’ and that’s why it’s so important for everybody to be on the same page to make this happen.

Who are they staying with? You mentioned families. Do all of them have relatives here or do some of them need sponsors?

The ones who are right now applying for visas, which are the I-131 Humanitarian Parole visas, their families are here already. Those are the visas that are being applied for people who are stuck in Afghanistan. Many of the people here in Cleveland who are from Afghanistan do have family here or friends or close relations. But of course sponsors are needed. Things are needed like housing, if people have an apartment or an extra place where people can stay. Gift cards to any of the different grocery stores. Jobs. And if you go to our landing page at Global Cleveland, we’ve listed all of the organizations, the three resettlement agencies along with places like Refugee Response, Building Hope in the City, and ASIA Ohio, that are all in the process of doing anything to welcome folks. And if people are coming from Afghanistan, they are going to be served by one of the agencies on that landing page.

So, what cultural sensitivity training, if any, would a volunteer get to smooth communications with Afghans?

Well, sure. I mean, there are so many things that are important about that. There are specific dietary issues. I’ve learned, in my own time at Global Cleveland, to be very respectful of people’s body space and not offering a handshake, which is easier now during this time of the pandemic. But you know, Amy, it’s the basics. Being kind. A smile. Being welcoming. And these individuals are going to need a lot. I mean, you think about their exit from Afghanistan, it’s pretty traumatic. And so they may have had a hard takeoff, but we hope in Cleveland they have a very, very soft landing.

Have you heard from any of these refugees’ relatives or from them themselves, the ones who speak English, about what their experience was like getting here?

It was really traumatic. And, Amy, I’ll share with you at the legal clinic that was sponsored by Catholic Charities and Refugee Response and Global Cleveland this past Monday, I had a lot of conversations with people who were in direct communication with people who were in Afghanistan. It’s chaotic. It’s stressful. It’s scary. It’s the unknown. But I’ll share with you, Amy, the conversations that I’ve had with the people who’ve arrived here recently, many of them, their English is excellent. These are individuals who are ready to be employed, who are ready to engage in what’s happening here. And I’m not going to sugarcoat it, they’ve gone through a lot of trauma. But you know, Amy, you think about what Cleveland did for the people coming from the Soviet Union who were Jewish, from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, from Ethiopia who settled in my neighborhood where I grew up, St. Clair – Superior, the Ethiopians that came after the war and the famine, and as recently as the Kosovars who were fleeing genocide in the former Yugoslavia, Cleveland has done this time and again. The Afghanistan community is one that needs us. We know how to do this, let’s do it.

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