Afghan refugees could be calling New England home in coming weeks as resettlement groups make plans to welcome them to the Granite and Green Mountain states.
The recently established Brattleboro branch of the Ethiopian Community Development Council — an agency authorized by the State Department to resettle refugees from around the world — has been approved to accept 25 Afghan refugees between November and December, according to the branch’s director, Joe Wiah.
“With the number of Afghan refugees already in the country and those expected to arrive, the number of Afghan refugees to resettle in Southern Vermont by 2022 may increase,” he said in an email to The Sentinel on Saturday. He added that those projections could change depending on the organization’s capacity and how willing refugees are to resettle in Vermont.
The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan erupted in August when the Taliban seized control of the government amid the withdrawal of U.S. forces, and tens of thousands of Afghans have fled the country, according to media reports.
In addition to the 25 Afghan refugees (and 10 from other countries) that Brattleboro’s ECDC is poised to accept, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announced last month that the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ Vermont branch had been approved to accept up to 100 Afghan refugees.
Meanwhile, in September, the International Institute of New England in Manchester and Ascentria Care Alliance in Concord submitted proposals to the State Department to accept a cumulative 150 refugees from Afghanistan into New Hampshire, according to the Associated Press.
New Hampshire’s state refugee coordinator for the Department of Health and Human Services wasn’t reachable for comment during Monday’s federal holiday.
Like the Ethiopian Community Development Council, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is one of nine refugee-resettlement agencies the federal government works with, while the International Institute is affiliated with USCRI, and Ascentria Care Alliance.
Agencies and their affiliates that accept refugees provide support for the initial resettlement period, including helping them find employment, enrolling their children in schools, and connecting the newcomers with any necessary social and language services, according to the State Department.
Networks of neighbors
Judy Reed, a member of the Keene Immigrant and Refugee Partnership, as well as Project Home, said New Hampshire’s refugee coordinator had recently reached out to KIRP about whether there’d be community support in the area for Afghan refugees.
KIRP advocates for a safe, welcoming and supportive community for immigrants and refugees, while Project Home is a local nonprofit that helps people seeking asylum with processes including accessing education, job training, legal services and community connections.
Project Home started operating in the fall of 2019, Reed said, and has welcomed eight adults and seven children to the area, staying in five host homes. Since its inception in 2017, KIRP has assisted refugees and immigrants in a number of ways, including hosting “Know Your Rights” sessions, organizing free dental care for about 20 immigrants and facilitating social events to bring different immigrant communities together, she said. KIRP has also organized rental assistance and groceries for two immigrant families who were put out of work during the pandemic and were ineligible for public assistance, she said.
Given the amount of community support KIRP and Project Home have received over the past few years, Reed said she believes the Monadnock Region can be counted on to welcome evacuees.
Across the river in Vermont, Alex Beck is the Welcoming Communities manager for Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., one of several organizations working to bring immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers to the Brattleboro area and ensure there are systems in place to support them.
When Rutland, Vt., was identified as a refugee resettlement site in 2015 amid the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Beck said he and other community organizers began looking into what it would take for Brattleboro to achieve similar status.
Then two years ago, several entities — including BDCC, Community Asylum Seekers Project of Rockingham, Southeast Vermont Transit and the Bellows Falls Area Development Corp. — teamed up to participate in the Working Communities Challenge, supported by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and philanthropic partners. The grant challenge advances efforts to build stronger economies in rural towns and small cities in New England.
While the team was eliminated from the challenge in its final round, the groups continued working together in forming Welcoming Communities. It’s a program “that seeks to make the region more welcoming, equitable, and inclusive for [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] community members, foreign-born workers, and non-citizen residents,” according to a news release from the group’s launch earlier this year.
In the process of refugee resettlement, BDCC’s own role is workforce development, Beck said.
“We’ve known for quite some time we need more people,” he said, adding that the size of the local labor force and school populations have decreased over the years. As BDCC’s Welcoming Communities manager, he looks for ways to invite more people to the community.
In more urban areas, processes such as using public transportation, seeking employment or accessing state benefits are often more formalized, Beck said. In more rural areas, he explained, it’s important to have support within the local community to help newcomers navigate those experiences.
Beck said he’s glad the Brattleboro area has been taking steps to become a viable home for refugees in time to help Afghans impacted by the crisis.
“The work that we’ve been able to do over these years, and bringing in ECDC, is living a set of values we have as a community.”
People in the Brattleboro area interested in helping those arriving from Afghanistan can learn more about how they can contribute at CASPVT.org/refugees or can donate to ECDC at ECDCUS.org. More information about KIRP and Project Home is available online at keeneimmigration.org and projecthomenh.org, respectively.