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Campaign to support incoming Afghan evacuees says the first of 335 due in WNY have arrived

Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees Update, Sept 16, 2021
Michael Mroziak, WBFO News
Jennifer Rizzo-Choi, interim executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo, speaks during an update on the Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees campaign Thursday, September 16, 2001

Local organizations who work to welcome and resettle immigrants and refugees say the first few Afghan evacuees expected to come here have arrived. A coalition preparing to help accommodate and settle them offered an update Thursday on a campaign raising funds to support that effort.

The Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees campaign is overseen by the Western New York Refugee and Asylee Consortium, a group of local human service agencies seeking to raise $750,000 for the effort.

“So far to date, we've received over $60,000 in individual contributions, and over $200,000 in institutional pledges, plus hundreds of inquiries from people who want to know how they can help how they can donate how they can get involved and volunteer,” said Jennifer Rizzo-Choi, interim executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo, one of the member agencies of the Consortium.

Governor Kathy Hochul announced Thursday that federal authorities have advised her 1,143 Afghan evacuees recently removed from their homeland will be resettled in New York State. Of those people, up to 335 will come to Buffalo.

Because they are relocating to the United States without going through the lengthy process to gain refugee status, they will be classified by the federal government as “parolees.”

Deacon Steven Schumer, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Buffalo – another member agency of the Consortium, says because of the different status, many arriving from Afghanistan will not have the same access to services and benefits afforded to those classified as refugees.

“It's really heartbreaking because, it's really easy to speak of these people in categories or groups,” he said. “These are evacuees, these are refugees. These are human beings. These are our sisters and brothers from another part of the country who are fleeing a terribly desperate situation. And we are called as, as the support agencies to reach out to help them.”

Schumer stated that many have come forward with in-kind donations, including housewares. Consortium members explained that preparing homes for evacuees is similar to preparing a college student for living in a dormitory, in terms of items needed.

But State Senator Sean Ryan, who joined Assemblyman Jon Rivera to support the campaign, says the best thing an interested donor can pledge is cash.

“Instead of buying a toaster and dropping it off, donate the value of a toaster. If you want to buy bedding, instead of buying bedding, donate the value of bedding, then the agencies can go out and buy the bedding that suits them best,” Ryan said. “If not, we end up with garages and warehouses full of stuff that we have to pay to store and pay to deliver. So, the best way to Afghans coming into Western New York is to make a donation through the WNYRAC website.”

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.