APA program resettles Afghans in manageable flow

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Afghan refugees are processed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany Sept. 8, 2021. CNS photo/Olivier Douliery, pool via Reuters

Over the course of the next six months, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville will help resettle 150 Afghans into local communities as part of the effort to help them escape Taliban rule under the State Department’s Afghan Placement Assistance Program. 

“We serve people because we can address their needs, and addressing the humanitarian needs of refugees has been part of the mission of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Nashville since its founding in the early 1960s,” said Rick Musacchio, director of communications for the Diocese of Nashville. “Catholic Charities works in collaboration with federal partners to make the resettlement process manageable and not overwhelming for local communities.”

Kellye Branson, director of Refugee and Immigration Services, is heading the effort on behalf of Catholic Charities.

“We had a really quick turnaround to think about it. We were asked how many we could accommodate,” Branson said. “I reached out to the mayor’s office, Metro Schools, the Health Department, the clinic that provides … medical care, the Tennessee Office for Refugees, the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE), and other local organizations that serve refugees to get everybody’s thoughts about what might be possible. 

“I looked at how many refugees we were projected to get over the next year, how many refugees we’ve served in the past and 150 was where we landed as a number that we felt comfortable accepting over the next six months, that we could garner enough support for, and that we could manage when it came to providing services,” she added. 

At the beginning of September, the Department of Homeland Security implemented Operation Allies Welcome “to support vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked alongside us in Afghanistan for the past two decades, as they safely resettle in the United States,” according to the official Department of Homeland Security website, further leading to the implementation of the APA.

Throughout the process, the Afghans are vetted and screened by the Department of Homeland Security, which includes “biometric and biographic screenings conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals,” before they come to the United States, according to the department.

Once the Afghans arrive in the U.S., they are further processed at one of eight military bases. This consists of medical screenings, including testing for COVID-19, receiving vaccinations, applying for immigration status, and more as coordinated by the U.S. State Department.

Frances Anderson, Tennessee Office for Refugees state refugee health coordinator, deployed to Fort Bliss to assist the State Department in recent processing efforts.

“My time spent at Bliss was intense and impactful,” Anderson said. “The evacuees have experienced a tragic transit, and their journeys are not yet complete. I cannot begin to feel or understand the trauma that they are continuously experiencing.

“The hope that I saw among the guests of the base and hear from colleagues and friends from Afghanistan is a huge motivator,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful for the compassion and interest across the United States to assist in this humanitarian work.”

Once all processes are complete and the State Department designates a destination city, local resettlement agencies like Catholic Charities determines whether to accept the case and continue the resettlement process.

“If a refugee or, in this case, Afghan, has a friend or family member already living in the United States, they will request to be resettled near them,” Branson said. “Otherwise, usually the nine national resettlement agencies divide the cases up and determine the destination city based on capacity assessments each local resettlement agency fills out each year.

“In the assessments,” she explained, “we let our national affiliates know what communities are established here, what languages are spoken, resources for English classes, health care, housing costs, et cetera.

“We have seen the benefits to our city and our country of the clients that we serve,” she said.

Previous studies have shown that the economic benefit was many times more than the cost to the state to resettle them, she added.

In the APA program, Afghans receive 30 to 90 days of assistance, case management and $1,225 per individual from the State Department, Branson said.

 “We will be helping them establish housing, furnishing it, taking them to get their Social Security cards, getting the kids enrolled in school, and following up on any medical needs or mental health needs they might have, and hopefully be able to quickly get them employed,” Branson said. “The $1,225 is to cover that whole time.

“As of now, they are not eligible for any state or federal benefits or assistance other than this APA program, so efforts are being made to develop private support to provide more of the long-term assistance that refugees and (special immigrant visa holders) usually get,” she said. 

Volunteers are also needed, Branson said.

“We’ve got three volunteer roles that we’re looking for the most,” Branson said.

One is family mentors “who would basically serve as welcoming ambassadors for a family and help them learn about Nashville, get to the market, work with them on learning English if they need to, connect them to local shops and the library, and just help them acculturate and learn about life in Nashville,” Branson said.

Second is transportation assistance to transport clients to and from appointments. 

“Our plan is to have a pool of volunteers and a shared document that they could see the time, date and place of the appointment,” Branson said. “They would then choose to take on those tasks as their schedules permit.”

Third is housing setup.

“That involves helping move in furniture, it could be shopping for things still needed, it could be going over to the apartment before the family moves in and rinsing off the dishes that have been sitting in our warehouse,” Branson said.

To donate or apply as a volunteer, visit cctenn.org.

Thus far, Branson has accepted two cases in the APA program including a single individual and a family of four.

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