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Syracuse Refugee Resettlement Agencies Prepare To Receive Afghan Refugees Amid Worsening Conditions

Afghanistan Evacuation
Sgt. Samuel Ruiz
/
U.S. Marine Corps
Evacuees load on to a United Arab Emirates Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 21. U.S. service members are assisting the Department of State with an orderly drawdown of designated personnel in Afghanistan.

Syracuse’s refugee resettlement agencies say they’re ready to take in evacuees from Afghanistan who make their way here after escaping the grip of the Taliban.  A pair of deadly explosions at and near the airport in Kabul today made the situation that much more dire.  It’s still unknown just how many evacuees are coming here, or when they’ll arrive.

We’ve all heard stories of the chaos, desperation, and danger facing those trying to escape the country. Felicia Castricone is program officer for refugee resettlement services for Catholic Charities of Onondaga County.

"I know that many families have been reaching out to us about relatives overseas. That community is definitely coming forward and very concerned about family members and friends who are still in Afghanistan."

Castricone says they have sent lists of potential special immigrant visa, or SIV applicants to congressmember John Katko’s office. They’re typically individuals who’ve worked with the U.S. government as interpreters or in other supports roles. She says Katko’s office been very responsive in forwarding the lists to a task force that’s trying to identify friends and relatives. Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Interfaith Works Olive Sephuma says those connections are a big factor when considering where to resettle anyone coming to the U.S.

"Many individuals are destined for places where they already have family or they know someone there."

Sephuma says early indications are that they’re expecting 20 individuals with SIVs to arrive in Syracuse. They’ve already resettled two families in the past two weeks, and she says they’re adjusting well, and feeling happy and blessed to be here. City and county leaders, as well as Governor Hochul have said the door is open, and both Sephuma and Castricone say the support is heartwarming.

"When that gets communicated by community leadership, it means so much to our work and to the families that we help resettle here," Sephuma said.

"It means a lot to the Afghan community here, that they [the leaders] would come together, certainly without any prompting from us, and say, 'hey, we want to welcome Afghan refugees to Syracuse.' I think that's awesome," Castricone said.

But for the resettlement agencies, their work is only beginning. Sephuma at Interfaith Works says it all starts from the minute they arrive.

"We are there when the families step foot on the ground here in Syracuse. We're there to receive them at the airport," Sephuma said.

"We acquire and furnish and apartment for them so they have some place to go immediately. Then we ensure they have their basic needs met: Food, shelter, clothing, anything they might need when they first arrive in Syracuse," Castricone said.

"Helping them get connected to social services; helping children get enrolled in school; helping them get connected to medical services; helping with job searches and then doing cultural orientation," Sephuma said.

"The school district has always been supportive of refugees. The medical system is on board. We have clinics that work with and specialize with refugees, especially at Upstate and St. Joes. Even the [county] department of social services has been really helpful with this process," Castricone concluded.

Castricone with Catholic Charities says we’re lucky to live in a welcoming community that gets excited when they hear more refugees might be coming our way. Sephuma with Interfaith works anticipates the SIVs might have an easier time transitioning because of their work with the U.S. government.

"They come in already speaking English and also with professional backgrounds through their experience with the U.S. They get adapted much, much quicker."

But right now, it’s a long, arduous path between leaving Afghanistan safely and arriving here. Both Castricone and Sephuma say it’s a tense and ever changing situation.

"It's really heartbreaking to watch the news and see the desperation, and know that they're in a really dangerous situation," Castricone said.

"We're just hoping that the government continues to work on expediting processes that our allies who are unsafe can get to safety," Sephuma said.