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New campaign seeks 'United' effort to help incoming Afghan evacuees settle in Buffalo

WNY Refugee & Asylee Consortium Afghan presser 9-2-21
Michael Mroziak
Eva Hassett, executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo (at podium), speaks during the launch of Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees. The Institute is one of the several members of the WNY Refugee and Asylee Consortium, which is leading the campaign to acquire resources to help incoming Afghan evacuees settle in the Buffalo area.

The five agencies that collaborate as the Western New York Refugee and Asylee Consortium are rolling out a new campaign to ensure Afghan evacuees on their way to the Buffalo area have the basic needs and additional services they’ll require upon arrival. And they’re putting they’re hopes on the community coming forward to help.

The Consortium is calling it Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees. It seeks volunteers, donated goods and also financial support. The fundraising portion of the campaign has a goal of $750,000.

“Through the United campaign, you'll be able to provide support to assist vulnerable Afghan evacuees, through volunteering, donations of needed goods and through financial contributions to support food, housing and other essential needs, like trauma care and health care,” said Molly Carr, president and chief executive officer of Jewish Family Services of Western New York, one of the Consortium’s member agencies.

Its other member agencies are Catholic Charities of Buffalo, the International Institute of Buffalo, Journey’s End Refugee Services and Jericho Road Community Health Center.

An estimated 350 displaced Afghan people are expected to settle in the Buffalo area. Most of them, it was explained, will come under the status “humanitarian parolees.”

“These parolees are different from refugees, in the sense that they are not part of the formal refugee resettlement process, meaning that they do not have the same access to services,” said Karen Andolina Scott, executive director of Journey’s End. “They don't have the same access to benefits and they don't have the same access to a path towards citizenship that our other refugees have.”

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo), who was present for the announcement Thursday of this new campaign, takes exception to calling the incoming evacuees parolees.

“We should not call these humanitarian victims ‘parolees.’ They're not parolees. That's a bureaucratic term. That is a terrible misnomer, relative to the status of these individuals,” Higgins said. “They are victims that need our help and they are victims that courageously gave of themselves to help the U.S. war effort over the past 20 years. We have a moral obligation to help them.”

Members of the Afghan community already settled in Buffalo are also participating in the campaign and resettlement effort.

Milad, who is president of the Afghan New Generation — a group formed within the Buffalo-area Afghan community — came to the U.S. five years ago. He has remained in touch with friends who fled the country more recently, no longer hopeful of leading Afghanistan into the future with the Taliban again in power.

“All there is left is depression,” he said. “Today, I'm looking for a way to interact with my uncle and auntie and my grandma from Afghanistan. Today, my phone is filled with messages from my family and friends, who are all worried and living in a life of despair.”

Carr suggested the evacuees soon to arrive in Buffalo will require much more than food, shelter and the usual basic needs.

“Our teams have colleagues on the ground in the different bases where they're receiving Afghans, and have two words to describe what they're seeing: shell shock,” she said. “The people who are coming to us, they're going to need more than just the basics. They're going to need care, trauma care, mental health services, physical health services.”

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.