Emotion alone is not enough to welcome refugees

The author is a contributing columnist, based in Chicago

It’s a cliché that the United States is a nation of immigrants — and a cliché that, in recent years, has been simply wrong. The nation of 330 million managed to resettle a meager 11,000 refugees in the financial year that ended in September 2021, the lowest number in more than 40 years.

Washington last week took the first steps to recruit US sponsors for 100,000 people on “humanitarian parole” – a step below refugee status – fleeing war in Ukraine, in addition to tens of thousands of Newly settled Afghans who were forced out of their country after the United States withdrew last year.

Here in the Midwest – where many have a parent or grandparent who fled war or poverty to the United States within living memory – the story of Afghans who fought alongside the states States or Ukrainians fleeing Russian President Vladimir Putin, moves many hearts. But it takes more than emotion to put a traumatized displaced person on the path to success; it takes money, stamina and a long-term commitment.

So when I read the headlines in Midwestern newspapers about the ongoing Afghan refugee trials, I think we better pull up our socks before 100,000 Ukrainians arrive. I saw: “Afghan family of 14 says they went days without food or other supplies” and “Afghan family says army camp was better than hotel in Iowa”.

“Under the administration of [former president Donald] Trump, the refugee resettlement agencies were in shambles and many have yet to bounce back, so we get SOS calls all the time from agencies that can’t handle what they’re supposed to do,” says Janan Najeeb , president of Milwaukee. The Muslim Women’s Coalition, a grassroots organization pressed to serve to help Afghan refugees – although that is not their expertise.

“Many are really struggling to meet basic needs,” she says, adding that “they get food aid, but that only gives you certain items, and they don’t eat peanut butter or jelly. .. they will not eat meat unless it is zabiha [halal], but you put them in those little remote towns and where are they going to get that over there? You want them to eat potatoes and eat rice as normal so their kids don’t eat.

Community organizations like Najeeb’s provide volunteers to take mothers who cannot drive to get groceries or bring children to school activities. “But there is a fatigue that sets in,” she says. “We all have busy lives, we want to help, but volunteers have full-time jobs and family obligations of their own. At the end of the day, you need paid people to do this work.”

Bands like Welcome. The United States, a coalition aimed at mobilizing private and community support for refugees, raises money for organizations like Najeeb’s. Last week, the coalition’s Welcome Fund announced $5.6 million in funding for 143 groups helping Afghans.

“By the end of this fiscal year, up to 200,000 newcomers could enter the United States, orders of magnitude more than last year,” says Nazanin Ash, Welcome. Chief Executive of the United States. “We have much more capacity as a nation to support vulnerable newcomers than if we relied solely on government systems.”

I think she’s talking about me: it’s time for me to do my part. So I went online to see how to sponsor one of the 100,000 Ukrainians allowed to come here on “humanitarian parole”. Only those with an identified sponsor in the United States will be permitted to participate, and only for a maximum of two years.

But to sponsor, I have to identify a specific Ukrainian family and agree to support them financially for two years – and I’m not entirely willing for anyone, no matter how deserving, to occupy the spare room too. long time.

“We’ve been inundated with calls from people asking for help, but a two-year commitment is a very long commitment,” says Jessica Schaffer of the Chicago branch of HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that helps people. refugees.

Welcome.US says Americans can also donate to Airbnb to cover housing for refugees, or donate to nongovernmental organizations that can sponsor Ukrainians, but it’s not yet clear how to do that. If Poland managed to educate about 200,000 Ukrainian children in less than 60 days, surely we can understand that. It’s time for the “immigrant nation” of the United States to live up to its name.

About Elizabeth Smith

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