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Afghan Resettlement Q&A with Executive Director Susan Sperry

As you likely saw in the news, US troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan, leaving many questions as to what happens next. We want to share with you how World Relief Chicagoland is responding and how you can help. To help answer some of these questions, we sat down with Susan Sperry, Executive Director of World Relief Chicagoland in a Q&A to explain what’s happening.

Q&A About Afghan Evacuation

What happens now that U.S. troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan?

Even though the US military is no longer present in Afghanistan, World Relief Chicagoland will continue to advocate for the evacuation of Afghan allies and their families. Just as any of us would flee an unsafe environment, we anticipate that those at risk will seek every available opportunity to leave Afghanistan. 

We know that thousands of Afghans were evacuated so far. And they are arriving in one of two ways. For those who have yet to complete a full security screening, they are initially going to an external location like Qatar, before arriving in the United States in order to complete the security requirements of the United States.  For those that already have been screened and approved as a refugee or received a Special Immigrant Visa (see footnotes), they are coming directly to the United States. As they arrive, many families receive initial orientation at US military bases prior to being connected to resettlement organizations like World Relief Chicagoland. 

How many Afghans do you expect to arrive in Chicagoland?  

Currently, we are preparing to welcome 150 Afghans in the weeks and months ahead. Some Afghans will have refugee status, others with Special Immigrant Visas, and others under humanitarian parole (see footnotes). These new neighbors would be in addition to the 700+ refugees from all over the world we are preparing to welcome this coming fiscal year (October 1, 2021, to September 31, 2022.)  

Can you share more about refugees, Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIVs), and humanitarian parolees? How does each status impact an Afghan’s access to resettlement support?  

It is important to remember that all the Afghan people coming are fleeing for the same reasons; they fear retaliation for their support of the US Military, their religious affiliation, gender, or human rights activity. They also need the same support when they arrive in the United States; housing, food, connections with a job, English language support, school connections, healthcare, and other vital services. At World Relief, we plan to assist all Afghans we resettle with these vital services. We expect this group in particular to need additional support.

How can I make the biggest impact?   

The biggest impact you can have is through engaging for the long term. We are at the beginning of a large-scale emergency response with long-term realities. We know it takes many years for refugees to rebuild their lives. And we expect that this will be no different for those arriving from Afghanistan. They have experienced such recent trauma and loss! Because of that, they will need our community’s support, both now and in the years to come. 

What are the volunteer opportunities?

We expect the need for volunteers will grow in the months and years ahead. That is because we expect to resettle refugees from Afghanistan as well as other countries. Volunteers can support as English tutors, friendship partners, helping with transportation, and more. We believe that everyone has a part to play in building a welcoming community. Our website is the best place to start the volunteer journey.

Because we are working to connect everyone with a way to serve, we ask for your patience if it takes a little longer than usual due to the abundant responses we’re receiving. And we are so grateful for that!  As arrivals of Afghans and other refugees increase over the weeks and months ahead, we expect these opportunities to serve will also increase.

What can be done now?  

Building Welcome Kits, financial partnership, and advocacy are significant ways that you can help now.  Gather a group from you church, family, or community to host a donation drive. Encourage friends and family to give. And join advocacy efforts. You can learn more about this here

Where do I go to learn more, give, or get involved?  

The best way for you to engage with World Relief is to visit worldrelief.org/chicagoland/afghan-allies.

This page shares opportunities for churches, volunteers, financial partnership, and more, and has links to helpful resources. It’s the best place for you to learn more about World Relief’s response! And to learn ways you can make the biggest impact.  

Helpful Definitions

A refugee: someone forced to flee because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal, and religious violence are leading reasons why refugees flee. In the United States, UNHCR, the U.S. Government, and organizations like World Relief work together to ensure refugees receive access to benefits and other resources as they rebuild their lives.  

Humanitarian Parole: a status granted to someone who is eligible to come to the United States on a temporary basis due to an emergency. This allows the individual time to pursue Permanent Legal Resident status in the United States.  

What does SIV mean/what is an SIV? The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was established under the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009. The intention of the program is to facilitate the expedited visa processing of Afghans whose lives were threatened as a result of their service alongside the US military. There are currently about 18,000 Afghan SIV applicants waiting to be processed and 53,000 family members in need of protection.

Thanks for reading this Q&A with Susan Sperry! Learn more about Afghan resettlement and how you can get involved here.

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