Two refugee resettlement nonprofits here are preparing to receive refugees from Afghanistan, calling for donations and working to secure housing and other services.
While no refugees have been assigned to Lancaster County yet, both Church World Service and Bethany Christian Services are getting set with the expectation that some will be coming, perhaps with little notice.
“Lancaster is a resettlement site, and we have been providing services to refugees for over 30 years, so we expect to receive our share of refugees coming to this area,” said Valentina Ross, Church World Service Lancaster office director.
The local refugee resettlement agency at 308 E. King St. in Lancaster city notified its global headquarters in New York that it is interested in supporting Afghan refugees, including those with Special Immigrant Visas, which help speed up the process of allowing Afghans who worked with the United States military to enter the U.S.
Afghan families are being resettled in the U.S. through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Once processed, Ross said, the families are reunited with relatives or paired with resettlement agencies.
“If they have family in the U.S., we make sure those relatives are contacted and are expecting family to join them,” she said. “If they have no family, we see to it that resources are in place to have a successful resettlement.
“In this case, however, the resettlement process will be a little different because this is an emergency situation and things will have to move faster,” Ross said. “We know that there will be families coming and that all refugees will receive a number of services, but we still don’t have much detailed information.”
Outpouring of support
Services provided to the refugees include cultural orientation, housing, and employment, among other things.
“We have employers begging us to send them workers. They have more jobs than can be filled,” Ross said. “However, the housing situation is really tight in Lancaster. These people have suffered enormously and housing is very necessary.
“We work with them to make sure they adjust to life in our community through cultural orientation while teaching them about idiosyncrasies they will find in Lancaster,” Ross said.
According to Ross, CWS Lancaster has received an outpouring of support from people who have expressed their desire to help when the need arises. The newcomers will be matched with community members, volunteers and sponsors who are collaborating with the agency.
“I ask our community to open their hearts to these people,” Ross said. “That would be a very special thing to do … because anybody could find themselves in a situation like this.”
CWS Lancaster is also in need of donations. For a list of most needed items, visit its website at www.cwslancaster.org.
Bethany Christian Services
Meanwhile, Bethany Christian Services in Manheim Township is working with its national office, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, to advocate for the evacuation of all Afghan refugees and allies.
“Lancaster is a welcoming community and Bethany is reaching out to the community for support,” said Megan Brown, Bethany’s Lancaster refugee services site director. “We are currently asking for co-sponsors to help support and walk alongside these families during their first six months in the country. This is an opportunity for the community to show them support and welcome them with open arms.”
The nonprofit at 1681 Crown Ave. welcomes monetary and household goods donations for its refugee program and is looking for help with any incoming Afghan families the agency may be resettling. To donate, or to learn about the items needed, visit www.Bethany.org or call 1-800-BETHANY.
Although both CWS Lancaster and Bethany might find themselves busy now with the Afghan crisis, they continue to work and service refugees from other parts of the world.
“They are not coming very frequently because of COVID but we are not going to say ‘no’ to other refugees during the Afghan crisis. We will adjust our capacity,” Ross said.
New arrivals, Ross said, are tested for COVID-19 and placed in quarantine. Then they are offered the vaccine and all precautions are taken to protect them and others.
“Bethany is focusing on Afghan refugees at this time and making ourselves available to help, but we are still resettling families from other countries,” Brown said.
In September, Bethany Lancaster expects to resettle three families from Ukraine, Eritrea and Sudan.