Catholic Charities needs
volunteers, donations during
unprecedented resettlement process

Upon their arrival, Afghan refugees board a bus at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., Sept. 1, 2021, taking them to a processing center. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

Catholic Charities of Louisville has been doing refugee resettlement for 40+ years. And it’s never been like this before, according to the agency’s Migration and Refugee Services director.

Colin Triplett, MRS director, said during the past four years the agency has had “relatively low” arrivals at a regular pace, usually with a three-week notice, allowing the program to have everything ready for refugees when they arrive.

“We have prided ourselves on excellence,” he said. “On having permanent housing available and set up, having all the pieces and components ready when new clients arrive. It’s just been different with the Afghan cases.”

Last year, Migration and Refugee Services resettled 95 refugees. This year, in the past three months alone Catholic Charities has resettled 133 Afghan evacuees here.

When Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul fell to Taliban forces in mid-August, military facilities and refugee services around the U.S. had to pivot their operations to prepare for the roughly 73,000 Afghan evacuees that would arrive seeking asylum.

The onslaught leans heavily on a severely diminished U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The previous presidential administration reduced the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions each year, decreasing it from 30,000 in fiscal year 2019 to 18,000 in fiscal year 2020 and proposing to admit 15,000 in fiscal year 2021, the lowest level in the program’s history. Prior to the reductions, the refugee ceiling had been significantly higher, standing at 110,000 in fiscal year 2017.

The program was halted completely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Low-to-zero admissions led to reduced funding, which led to the decimation of local infrastructure intended to welcome arriving refugees.

Add to that sparse housing options in the area, and you have a situation that is very different from the standard, Triplett said.

“We’ve had a high number of arrivals in a very short amount of time,” Triplett said. “With the rate of arrivals, the notice is condensed.” What used to be three weeks is now just four or five days. “It has been as short as 36 hours.”

In that time, resettlement programs aim to secure permanent housing where families will live for at least a year, so hotels are a last option, Triplett said. They have to get utilities turned on and set up the home with everything a family needs, from furniture and bedding to kitchen essentials.

Then staff and volunteers pick up the refugees from the airport, take them to their new home and schedule their post-arrival service appointments.

It’s a process that relies heavily on volunteers. According to Lauren Goldener, who’s been a Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services community engagement specialist since September, “with a staff the size of ours, we need as much help as we can get.”

“This is not the way refugee resettlement is supposed to go,” Goldener said. “This 48-hour thing isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We don’t want it this way either but we need all the help we can get.”

With the help the agency has received thus far, Goldener said, “I’ve been so grateful more than anything. So getting to see the way our community has stepped up has been really encouraging to me and I’ve been kind of blown away.”

Triplett noted the MRS staff has about 13 vacancies, a quarter of the staff, which has impacted how the rest of the staff does their work.

“Delivery- and pickup-specialist vacancies, case-staff vacancies — just so happens to be vacancies where there’s essential staff,” he said.

“This is really where we need the community to respond,” he said. “We’re doing everything we possibly can to be organized.

“Sometimes service takes on different forms. Sometimes you have the ability to have a direct relationship with a client, but sometimes the real need is sorting the donation room. Both of those are of value.”

Goldener said the agency needs both volunteers and donations.

Volunteers can help “behind the scenes beforehand with apartment set up” or by sorting donations. They can help with transportation from the airport, to appointments or to orientation at Catholic Charities. Or they can volunteer to provide childcare.

“The children can’t get into schools right away; it takes about two weeks,” Goldener said. “We have a huge need for childcare during orientation and ESL classes” at Catholic Charities.

On the donation side, Goldener said there’s a list of things that aren’t often donated but are needed.

The migration and refugee program needs:

  • Laundry detergent
  • Twin sheets
  • Shower curtain liners and hooks
  • Kitchen trash cans
  • Hairbrushes
  • Feminine pads
  • Shampoo
  • Men’s clothing

Triplett said it’s been difficult for the staff to maintain connections with people who have expressed an interest in volunteering previously. He asks all those interested in volunteering to reach out directly through the website https://cclou.org/afghanistan.

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