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Pittsburgh Groups Preparing For Afghan Refugees

By: KDKA-TV News Staff

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Jewish Family and Community Services is working with several local groups to prepare for Afghan refugees.

As the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan, many of its people are fleeing the country. Some refugees have already arrived in the Pittsburgh region. JFCS in Squirrel Hill says one family arrived at the end of August. They're expecting another refugee family soon and say dozens more people could arrive in the coming weeks and months.

"We know that it's incredibly difficult for these individuals to change their lives and move to a new country, abandon their homes, jobs and communities. So our goal is to help them to successfully navigate this difficult process and help them get settled here in Pittsburgh as easy as possible," said JFCS Refugee and Immigrant Services Director Ivonne Smith-Tapia.

Many Afghans who helped U.S. troops and diplomats fear they will be targeted by the Taliban after the government of Afghanistan collapsed. But the U.S. says it will keep its promise to keep those people safe.

President Joe Biden directed the secretary of state to use up to $500 million from the emergency refugee and migration assistance fund.

U.S. officials say they're making space for around 22,000 people who applied for an Afghan Special Immigrant Visa or SIV. National security officials say there are as many as 60,000 Afghans who could qualify for the special immigrant visa and that number doesn't include their families.

"Now with everything changing in Afghanistan, they're really in danger," said Smith-Tapia.

That's why JFCS is acting as quickly as they can to get these people to Pittsburgh. The organization is collaborating with community partners to prepare for their arrival.

"When getting the notification of travel, we meet them at the airport, we help with everything they need for a new home, furnishings, have all the essential needs," said Smith-Tapia.

On top of this, services also include healthcare, education and finding employment. The problem is, it's unclear when they'll arrive, so JFCS has to be ready.

"We need to prepare knowing they're coming but have to be ready because it could be a week's notice when they arrive," said Smith-Tapia.

Being that we're in a global pandemic, JFCS said the refugees are tested before they leave Afghanistan. If someone tests positive, they must quarantine there. Once they arrive in Pittsburgh, they're tested again and are given the option to get the COVID vaccine.

Meantime, some refugees aren't eligible to come to the U.S., like Noorulhaq Fazly's family. Fazly is the refugee employment specialist at JFCS.

"They're ok, but really worried and scared about what's happening and what will happen next," said Fazly. "They're dead. Mentally, they're dead."

Fazly says this is a situation that's tough to deal with, especially since he doesn't know when or if he will see his family again. Fazly says this is a reality for a lot of people in Afghanistan, another reason why the people at JFCS say it's so important to welcome those who do make it to Pittsburgh with open arms and provide the services they need.

The JFCS is collecting donations for families online.


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