Politics

Two Afghan families arrive in Mass. — the first of many

"It’s unprecedented — the last major humanitarian effort like this was after the Vietnam War."

Members of a family of five Afghan evacuees are greeted by members of the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center as they arrive at Logan Airport from El Paso, TX. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The first two families of Afghan evacuees have arrived in Massachusetts, and over 1,000 more people fleeing Afghanistan will soon need resettlement across the state.

Communities across the country will be accepting 65,000 Afghans in the next few months, and possibly another 30,000 in the coming year, according to The Boston Globe. The scope of the crisis has not been seen in decades, and governments and organizations are mobilizing resources at every level. 

AFGHAN EVACUEES

“It’s unprecedented — the last major humanitarian effort like this was after the Vietnam War,” Jeff Kinney, working with Ascentria Care Alliance in Worcester, which is working to bring about 400 evacuees to Worcester and Western Massachusetts, told the Globe. “But this one is massive because it happened so fast, and the resettlement is going to have to happen so fast.”

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All Afghan evacuees go through a Department of Homeland Security vetting process before being admitted, including a health screening and vaccination against COVID-19, WCVB reported. Along with the 900-1,100 evacuees to be rehomed in Massachusetts, another 760 will be divided among Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

“Massachusetts is pleased to welcome the first family of Afghan evacuees to the Commonwealth, and looks forward to working with the federal government and local nonprofits who serve these populations as additional evacuees arrive in the coming weeks and months,” a state spokesperson wrote in a statement to WCVB.

Many of the Afghan evacuees don’t qualify for refugee status and are considered humanitarian parolees, according to the Globe, which means they don’t qualify for refugee benefits. State officials are working to address this, and are considering legislation to extend MassHealth coverage to evacuees and fund financial assistance and services. 

Maxine Stein, president and CEO of Jewish Family Service, is coordinating volunteers to help Afghans resettle in Western Massachusetts. Her biggest concern is finding housing for people, so her organization is looking for apartments, AirBnbs, in-law apartments, and any other accommodations to home families for weeks or months, MassLive reported. 

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She’s set up a wishlist of items like pillows and kitchen utensils to help set up households, and Jewish Family Services of MetroWest has a form available for anyone who can offer accommodation. 

“The response from the community has been very beautiful and overwhelmingly kind,” Stein told MassLive. “It’s an incredibly beautiful response we are seeing from the community at large. I think it is a reflection of the responsibility we feel as Americans.”

Meg Gallo, with the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center in Boston, told the Globe it’s been a huge undertaking, but the community has shown up to help.

“The people of Massachusetts have been absolutely phenomenal; there has been an outpouring of support,” she said.

The father of the second family to arrive, whose names are being withheld, worked for the United States while in Afghanistan, and said he was afraid as he watched the Taliban take more and more of his country.

“It was very scary for me and my family,” he said. “I’m so grateful to the people that helped me get out of there with my family. I’m so happy. And I’m thankful to the people that are welcoming us here.”

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