“This is very traumatic,” he said. “We're talking to people who were in Kabul just last week or two weeks ago under those terrible circumstances at the airport, and who have been separated from loved ones. This is all happening in real time, so prayer is critical and vital for the people of Afghanistan, for these folks who have been forced to flee their homes under such dramatic circumstances.”
Previously, Carattini said, Catholic Charities would have received notification that refugees were arriving at the airport in the U.S., so they could organize housing, provide culturally appropriate food, and even greet them at the airport. With the pace and scale of the evacuation this time, they are having to move much more quickly in locating resources and preparing for their arrival.
“Since 2008, we’ve settled over 4,000 men, women and children from Afghanistan in our diocese, and typically, in the last few years, we've been resettling approximately 350 a year,” said Carattini. “Now, obviously we're in a different world. In the last two months alone, we’ve received over 200 Afghan SIV holders, and we’re anticipating a significant number to come.”
Pollock thinks the refugees will begin traveling to their final destination—where Catholic Charities will be awaiting their arrival—in the next couple weeks. When the refugees arrive, volunteers and employees of Catholic Charities will help them secure housing, reconnect with family members, enroll in school, find employment, and begin life anew in the United States.
“We’ll all have to work together to build as much capacity as we possibly can,” she said. “It’s not often that we get to respond to a crisis of this magnitude in our local communities. It’s a great opportunity to put into practice our commitments. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to embrace, to respond to the call, to respond with love.”
According to the White House, the United States airlifted more than 120,000 people out of Afghanistan before the withdrawal of U.S. forces was complete. The refugees arrive in the U.S. through various military bases, where they go through processing, which includes both security and health screening.
Pollock said the USCCB becomes involved once the processing has been completed, to help determine where in the Catholic Charities network is best for the family.
Currently, only refugees with a current Special Immigrant Visa are eligible for benefits and financial assistance through Catholic Charities. Refugees designated as “parolees,” either because they are an asylum seeker or because their SIV had not been processed, do not have access to the same benefits.
Obtaining a SIV is a years-long process which requires referrals from the military, background checks, security clearance, letters, and an interview, among other steps, said Tom Mrosko, director of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Cleveland.
“The goal was to evacuate all the SIVs, the folks that were pending SIV status, and then about 50,000 other individuals through a humanitarian parole process,” said Mrosko. “So you have the typical SIV and refugee side of things that is occurring in tandem with these parolees, but without having the ability to work right away, nor with some of the financial resources that an SIV or refugee would receive the minute they get here. We’re really trying to think outside the box.”
Cleveland, like other Catholic Charities locations, is relying heavily on the generosity of the community to find free or very low rent accommodations for those who are arriving.
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“This is a different type of challenge, but the support for us has been tremendous,” Mrosko said.
They are also preparing to support the mental health of the refugees.
“I would imagine a lot of these individuals will be grieving what they’ve lost and who they’ve left behind just two weeks ago,” Mrosko said. “I’m sure mentally they weren’t preparing for an evacuation quite like this.”
In addition to having immigration lawyers and Department of Justice accredited representatives, Catholic Charities in Cleveland has counselors and psychologists on staff, as well as a Survivors of Torture Program to support any individual who has been tortured outside the U.S.
“This is right in line with Catholic social teaching, it goes back to the Gospel that we should provide safety and comfort and food to those in need,” Mrosko said. “We’re all created in the image of Christ and there’s a dignity in all of us, no matter where you are from.”
For Catholic Charities in the Diocese of La Crosse, providing an opportunity to recreate is another key priority. They are working alongside the USCCB to establish Morale, Wellness and Recreation centers at Fort McCoy, one of the military bases receiving refugees from Afghanistan. The goal of the MWR is to provide a place where people can build community with other refugees and have space to relax, said Karen Becker, director of marketing for Catholic Charities in La Crosse.