Afghan Refugee Crisis Response
Update: May 25, 2022
Since August 1, 2021, JFCS East Bay has now resettled 659 individuals as they rebuild their lives in the East Bay.
We expect at least 170 more by October.
Update: March 11, 2022
As JFCS East Bay prepares to receive and assist a new wave of refugees who may arrive from Ukraine, we continue to welcome and assist our Afghan refugee clients.
Since Taliban forces took over Afghanistan in August 2021, causing a wave of refugees to seek asylum in the United State, our refugee services team has been hard at work. We have now resettled 530 individuals or over 190 families in the few months since August alone – and the wave is not nearly over. We expect at least 270 additional refugees, the majority of which will arrive from Afghanistan, by the end of this September.
Our immigration legal services team has stepped up service correspondingly with a massive increase of applications and appeals to help families stay safe here in the East Bay. As the U.S. government continues to make decisions around the fate of these refugees, our increased effort to advocate for and assist them is ongoing.
We have hired additional staff trained in case management with Dari and Pashto language skills to increase our staff capacity. Our new Afghan Initiative program manager leads our integrated approach to provide essential resources and support to Afghan refugees. We also are focusing on supporting many families who made their way to the East Bay through alternate routes and are seeking services now. We have committed to serving 200 walk-in individuals.
HIAS, the national resettlement agency we are affiliated with, reports: “Since August 2021, HIAS, its affiliates, and newly formed Welcome Circles have resettled over 3,700 people in 50 communities across the country.”
Want to help? There is still a strong need for volunteers to assist arriving refugee families through the following ways:
- Donate excellent condition men’s and women’s bicycles. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a bicycle to donate. We will then arrange an appointment for drop-off at our storage unit in Walnut Creek.
- Purchase an item from our Wish List. With the record number of new arrivals, we are running low on certain items. The list is updated daily, so it always reflects our clients’ most current needs.
- Send us Target gift cards. Target is the most versatile shopping option for our clients. These can be mailed directly to our office at 2151 Salvio Street, Suite 350, Concord, CA 94520.
- Make a financial donation to support our work. You can easily donate via this link to our website.
- Join our Facebook group JFCS East Bay Volunteers. When individual needs come up, we sometimes use this group to ask for volunteers. It’s also a great way to stay up to date on our work.
Volunteer Services at JFCS East Bay is looking for volunteers to get involved in the following ways:
- ESL Tutors and Conversation Partners: We are looking for volunteers for our tutoring programs. Experienced tutors/teachers are preferred but we are grateful for anyone who would like to get involved.
- Tax Advice 101: We are looking for experienced tax professionals to offer Zoom webinars on basic tax filing. We would provide a volunteer to translate the information into Dari as you present.
- Haulers/Helpers: Do you own a truck? We need volunteers willing to deliver furniture items to clients. This usually involves picking up a couch (for example) from a donor and delivering it to a client in another city.
- Mental Health Practitioners: Many of our clients experienced significant trauma fleeing Afghanistan and mental health resources are scarce. We are seeking mental health professionals to provide support for these clients, both in group settings and one on one.
Update: December 7, 2021
In response to a wave of denial letters sent by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to our clients seeking humanitarian parole for Afghans trapped under Taliban rule, JFCS East Bay has released the following press release.
Download the press release in PDF form.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
RELIEF ORGANIZATIONS BRACE FOR MASS DENIAL OF HUMANITARIAN PAROLE FOR AFGHANS TRAPPED UNDER TALIBAN RULE
This week, the U.S. government began denying humanitarian parole applications and dashing the hopes of thousands of Afghans awaiting rescue.
DECEMBER 3, 2021 – In August, the world watched the botched and incomplete evacuation of U.S. allies at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, aghast at the horrific images of families physically torn apart by frantic crowds, babies passed through barbed wire fence into the arms of strangers, and victims bloodied, maimed, or killed in the terrorist bombing.
But what then seemed like the height of this humanitarian crisis was, in fact, only the beginning. Since then, thousands of Afghans in communities across the U.S. have been desperate to rescue their loved ones who were left behind. The only legal channel available to most has been the dim hope of humanitarian parole. After months of inaction on these urgent petitions, this week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began denying them and extinguishing any chance of rescue.
In just four months, JFCS East Bay has resettled almost 300 Afghan evacuees and anticipates welcoming many more. Our Immigration Legal Services team has assisted in the filing of nearly 100 humanitarian parole applications and covered thousands of dollars in USCIS filing fees since August.
In October, worried by a lack of progress on the humanitarian parole applications, JFCS East Bay signed an open letter along with Project ANAR (the Afghan Network for Advocacy and Resources) and 112 other organizations calling for the U.S. government to address the growing backlog and deficient processing of humanitarian parole applications for Afghans.
Months later, USCIS finally began processing these cases – only to deny them.
The wave of denial letters received by immigration advocates across the U.S. this week articulate—for the first time—a set of stringent new criteria that will exclude the vast majority of Afghan humanitarian parole applicants from eligibility. According to JFCS East Bay Director of Immigration Legal Services, Kyra S. Lilien, “Redacted copies of these denial letters began popping up on listservs from immigration attorneys across the U.S. this week. No one has reported receiving a ‘request for evidence,’ as is the norm before USCIS denies a case. Instead, we all got these flat denials.”
Among other things, USCIS rejection letters are asking applicants to provide “documentation from a credible third-party source specifically naming the beneficiary and outlining the serious harm they face and the imminence of the harm in the location where the beneficiary is located.”
USCIS reports that it has received more than 30,000 such applications. At $575 per person, USCIS has likely taken in about $17,250,000 in application fees from these filings, making this process look like a classic “bait and switch” scam.
“Not only has USCIS created a very high evidentiary standard, it’s announcing these new stringent criteria after the fact, and applying them retroactively to pending applications,” says Lilien. “We have clients who have been waiting for an answer for months. While they wait, their family members have been kidnapped by the Taliban. Afghans are in hiding, freezing, without enough food, while being hunted by the Taliban. Turning the tables on them now is fundamentally unfair.
“These new USCIS requirements are incongruous with a humanitarian crisis.” Lilien explains. “USCIS cannot expect Afghans who are fleeing for their lives to come up with a notarized statement from their persecutor.”
The USCIS denial letters lay bare the utter abandonment of Afghan allies whom the U.S. government failed to evacuate, advising persons who fear persecution to find their own way out of Afghanistan so that they may seek refugee status through the United Nations. The problem with that approach is that achieving refugee status can take a lifetime.
“Instead of coming up with impossibly narrow criteria,” says Lilien, “USCIS should create an Afghan Parole Program that would allow for parole based on generalized risk, without requiring specific evidence of individualized harm. The Taliban is no longer making headlines in the U.S., but immigration advocates are hearing the real story from our clients. It is only a matter of time before they will be beaten, tortured, or killed because of their association with the U.S. Making them wait until that happens, just so they can prove they really are in danger, is repugnant.”
The U.S. cannot wash its hands of Afghanistan and move on. The U.S. has a responsibility to process these Afghan humanitarian parole applications fairly and live up to its professed promise to leave no one behind.
Update: November 22, 2021
The Afghan refugee crisis isn’t making major headlines anymore, but the urgent need of newly arriving families hasn’t taken a break – and neither have we.
Since the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in July, JFCS East Bay has been hard at work. In just three and a half months, we have welcomed 215 Afghan refugees to our community, with many others to come. Almost every day, we are accepting new cases through our partner HIAS, as well as serving people who have somehow made their own way to the East Bay and simply arrive at our office looking for support.
To put this outstanding caseload into context, over the course of a full typical year, we might resettle around 120 refugees. We’ve more than doubled that in just a few months. It really can’t be said enough that this is truly an unprecedented situation, with the number and pace of arrivals far exceeding anything resettlement agencies have experienced in many years. JFCS East Bay has already added several new staff members to meet this level of need, and we are actively recruiting for additional positions.
The biggest challenge for incoming refugees continues to be housing. We are providing significant assistance and advocacy in this arena, helping people find appropriate apartments, negotiating with property managers, subsidizing rent as people get on their feet, and so on. To date, we have disbursed $286,138 in housing support and rental subsidies.
Due to the pandemic and the surge of refugees across the state, many public benefits systems have been experiencing severe backlogs and long wait times. For newly arriving refugees, this has led to weeks-long delays in receiving the food benefits they are eligible for. To support our clients’ food security as they get settled and start looking for jobs, we have created a personal grocery shopping program, where volunteers shop for and deliver groceries to families. We now typically have about 20 families being served by this program to bridge the gap until their food benefits come through.
Furniture and Household Goods
As part of our resettlement contract, JFCS East Bay is responsible for providing furniture for every new refugee family. Much of the furniture we provide is donated by members of our community, which we deeply appreciate. We also provide families with bed linens, towels, dishes, silverware, glassware, cleaning supplies, toiletries, school supplies, laptops, car seats, and much more to help them set up their new homes. Many of these items have been donated through our wish list.
With the large number of families arriving and the outpouring of donations, we have had to expand from one storage unit to three! This has truly been a community effort.
We have also assisted many members of the Afghan community with applications for humanitarian parole, which provides people access into the country with a temporary legal status. For most Afghans, this is the sole means of rescuing their loved ones who are either stuck in Afghanistan and facing immediate danger, or who managed to escape to an unsafe third country. Our Immigration Legal Services team has assisted in the filing of at least 80 humanitarian parole applications and covered thousands of dollars in fees. We have also provided support, advice, and counsel to dozens more families seeking assistance.
With approximately 53,000 Afghan evacuees still on military bases in the U.S., we expect that our numbers will continue to grow in the coming months. In fact, as the military works to release people from the bases, we are actually seeing higher numbers right now than we were two months ago. We therefore are continuing to expand staff and services.
The resettlement road is a long one, and we will be alongside our clients as they secure stable housing, apply for essential public benefits, enroll in school and ESL classes, find childcare, seek work and job training, and begin navigating their new community. We welcome your involvement as a partner in our resettlement efforts. Together, we will welcome our new neighbors with dignity and care.
Update: September 24, 2021
While stories about the crisis in Afghanistan have largely faded out of the media, the impacts of the country’s collapse are still very much being felt by people who evacuated in order to seek safety and refuge. And JFCS East Bay is still deeply involved in supporting and welcoming these new refugees in our community.
Resettling New Arrivals
After resettling 80 Afghans in August, so far in September, we have welcomed 28 individuals and accepted the cases of another 17. Our understanding is that there are currently more than 53,000 evacuees at various military bases in the United States and at least another 12,000 around the world, many of whom will eventually make their way to the U.S. Our numbers will surely continue to increase. At this point, the military has somewhat slowed down the process of releasing people from bases to allow for thorough medical checks and vaccinations and give resettlement agencies a bit more time to prepare for new arrivals.
For JFCS East Bay, that preparation has truly been a whole-agency, cross-department effort. Our resettlement team—bolstered by the addition of three new Afghan staff members—is extremely busy finding housing for and providing comprehensive case management, navigation, mental health, and advocacy support to new arrivals.
Providing Legal Supports
Our Immigration Legal Services team has been addressing an array of legal needs resulting from the chaotic circumstances of the evacuations. Many people who were evacuated in the late August airlifts entered on a temporary humanitarian parole status, and they now need to adjust to permanent residence, or in some cases, apply for asylum. Many early parolees did not receive proper documentation, and they face a web of bureaucratic obstacles to fixing this problem.
In the past month, we have prepared 62 humanitarian parole applications for Afghans who are either stuck in Afghanistan and facing immediate danger, or who managed to escape to an unsafe third country. All of these humanitarian parole beneficiaries have family members in the East Bay who are desperately trying to save their loved ones’ lives.
The Immigration Legal Services team has supported scores more Afghan Americans this month by providing advice and legal consultation about the humanitarian parole process. All of this Afghan-specific legal work represents a significant program expansion. Our staff worked quickly to get trained and build capacity to take on these new services.
Engaging the Broader Community
In addition, our volunteers are very busy furnishing new apartments, organizing and distributing purchases from our wish list, and delivering weekly groceries to newly arrived families. Our Volunteer Services Manager Ami Dodson was also invited to participate on a recent Commonwealth Club panel about the Afghanistan situation, which you can view here.
In order to ensure coordinated services in the East Bay, we are also collaborating with an array of local community-based, legal, and civic organizations to weave together and advocate for needed resources and supports for new arrivals.
To support JFCS East Bay’s comprehensive response to this crisis, we are honored that the Giving Forward Fund has stepped up with a $25,000 challenge match. That means that if you donate to JFCS East Bay this weekend, your impact will be doubled! Please consider donating today to ensure that we can continue supporting our new neighbors.
Assistance to evacuated Afghans is one part of the broader story of the migration of refugees and immigrants to the United States. In the midst of the ongoing Afghanistan tragedy, JFCS East Bay also strongly condemns the racist mistreatment of Haitians and other immigrants along the southern border of the United States. As a refugee- and immigrant-serving organization, we are heartbroken and devastated by the images and reports of brutality and disrespect toward Haitian asylum seekers. We are also deeply concerned that there continue to be detention centers at the border and families who have yet to be reunited. We call on the Biden Administration to uphold our country’s values and laws, and to treat people seeking asylum and refuge with dignity and respect.
To learn more about the latest developments regarding newly arrived Afghans, asylum seekers at the border, and deportations to Haiti, we invite you to join our partner HIAS for an urgent briefing next Thursday, September 30, at 9:30am PT. Registration information is here.
Thank you so very much for your ongoing concern, commitment, and involvement. The way that this community has stepped forward over these past couple months clearly illustrates that you understand the importance of caring for and welcoming refugees.
Update: September 3, 2021
We continue to be very busy welcoming new refugees! In August alone, we resettled 77 Afghans in our East Bay community. To put this number into context, that’s about what we might typically expect to resettle in half a year, and we are currently projecting that September will be about the same. With your donations and support, all of you are part of making this possible. As Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, approaches next week, this is a time for renewal and hope for the future, as we all work together to support our new neighbors as their lives in our community begin.
And some other exciting news about next week: our work is scheduled to be featured on the Today Show on Monday morning! NBC reporter Jacob Soboroff visited with us this week, interviewing one of our recently arrived clients as well as Director of Refugee Services Fouzia Azizi. We hope that you can tune in! (Please note that TV plans can always change and stories can be bumped, so airing is not guaranteed.)
With the U.S. military officially completing its withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 31, large evacuations of Afghans have ended. Some of those flights came directly to the United States, but many went to other parts of the world—Qatar, Germany, Italy. This means that a whole other wave of arrivals will happen as those people make their way through the system and come to the United States. We therefore anticipate that we will continue to welcome a significant number of refugees over the coming weeks and months.
In response, and with your support, JFCS East Bay has added three more Afghan case managers and a volunteer coordinator to our staff. These new team members are getting right to work providing the comprehensive support that refugees need when they arrive in the country.
We also know that this work is just beginning. Resettlement is a long process, and our agency is committed to being here for these refugees for the long-term. And you have shown that our community shares this commitment.
Your financial contributions to JFCS East Bay, purchases from our wish list of household items, and responses to our call for volunteers continue to be vital to our work. Last weekend, a generous donor put up a $20,000 challenge match, and you all stepped up to more than meet that goal. Thank you!
This week, another donor has come forward with a $25,000 challenge match. That means that if you donate to JFCS East Bay this weekend, your impact will be doubled!
We are so proud to work in a community that understands the importance of caring for and supporting refugees. Because of the large Afghan population here, the East Bay is among the top resettlement destinations in the United States for evacuated Afghans. Thank you for your heartfelt partnership in welcoming our new neighbors.
Update: August 27, 2021
We continue to be so moved and inspired by our community’s warm welcome for refugees. We have heard from so many of you wanting to help and support—thank you!
The flow of Afghan refugees to the East Bay continues to be somewhat unpredictable. In addition to the 43 refugees who have already arrived in August, we have now accepted the cases of 89 people who are at Fort Lee in Virginia. Some of these people are now making their way all the way here—in fact, we’re welcoming a family of seven later today. For others, we are waiting for the government to inform us of travel arrangements. No matter when they get here, we will be ready when they arrive.
All of these refugees hold Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) because they worked with U.S. personnel in some way—often as military translators, and also as drivers or embassy workers. These Afghan nationals have been committed allies to U.S. efforts and are clear targets to the Taliban. They and their families must be brought to safety.
With the collapse of the Afghan government, many other Afghans who do not have direct ties to the U.S. government are also in danger—often because they have been public in their criticism of the Taliban. Some of these people are now applying for humanitarian parole, a status that allows them temporary entry into the United States. Parolees do not come with visas and must start their visa or asylum applications when they arrive. Additionally, unlike SIVs, parolees do not have access to public benefits, like Medi-Cal and food support.
In addition to continuing to resettle SIVs, JFCS East Bay has now agreed to accept the cases of up to 100 Afghan parolees. Because they lack access to benefits, resettling this population will require a significant commitment from our agency. And that’s where you come in.
Your financial contributions to JFCS East Bay, purchases from our wish list of household items, and responses to our call for volunteers continue to be vital to our work. This is truly a whole community effort, as we all work together to provide safety and refuge to our new Afghan neighbors.
As an extra incentive, a very generous donor has put up a $20,000 challenge grant to support our work with refugees—if you donate to JFCS East Bay this weekend, your impact will be doubled.
Thank you so very much for your ongoing concern, commitment, and involvement.
Update: Friday, August 20
While the news this week from Afghanistan has been devastating, the way our community has stepped up with caring and generosity has been incredibly moving and inspiring. As we’ve watched the evacuation crisis unfold, thousands of you have reached out wanting to be part of welcoming people to our East Bay community. Thank you for your financial contributions to JFCS East Bay, purchases from our wish list of household items, and responses to our call for volunteers. Each of these actions ensure that our new neighbors are welcomed with dignity and care. We are overwhelmed by your heartfelt desire to help the new arrivals move from trauma to comfort.
The situation in Afghanistan continues to be dynamic and challenging. The U.S. military was able to evacuate some people to American soil before the Taliban reached Kabul. From those groups, we have welcomed almost four dozen people, with another 41 likely coming by early next week. And of course there are still people in Afghanistan who desperately need to be relocated to safety. We had already accepted the cases of 33 individuals whose flights were then canceled; we are now waiting for updated arrival dates. We are hearing that the evacuation flights will be picking up in the coming days and we expect that the flow of Afghans to the East Bay will continue to rise. We will likely receive very little notice before we are called to meet arriving planes at local airports. With your support, we are doing everything we can to be ready for them.
In addition to the generous outpouring from the community, our work has also received quite a bit of media attention this week. Here are a few ways you can learn more about what we’re doing:
- The New York Times article featuring the story of our clients Ahmed and Tamanna and JFCS East Bay’s role in refugee resettlement.
- Director of Refugee Services Fouzia Azizi on KQED’s Forum (she is brought in toward the end of the hour).
- Director of Refugee Services Fouzia Azizi on KQED’s The Bay podcast.
- Resettlement Case Manager Yasamin Taher interviewed in J. – The Jewish News of Northern California.
- CEO Robin Mencher interviewed on NBC Bay Area News.
Thank you again for being part of such a welcoming community during this time of crisis. Working together, we’ll continue to reinforce the Jewish values at the foundation of JFCS East Bay. We will welcome, care for, and uphold the sanctity of every human life that comes through our doors as we act on our commitment to repair the brokenness of our world. We will continue to update you as the situation develops and additional refugees arrive in the East Bay.
Original post: Thursday, August 12
We’ve reached a critical and urgent moment.
With the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the situation in the country has turned chaotic. An emergency evacuation of Afghans who worked alongside the U.S. military over the past twenty years is now taking place. These people and their families are being targeted by the Taliban, and our country has an obligation to offer them safety and refuge. Some planeloads of refugees have arrived in Fort Lee, Virginia, and this month, JFCS East Bay has already welcomed 40 people to begin their new lives in the East Bay. We are currently waiting for 23 people more people to arrive from Fort Lee, and have accepted the cases of another 33 who are still in Afghanistan. The number and pace of resettlement is like nothing we’ve seen in recent years.
JFCS East Bay is here and ready to uphold the Jewish values of welcoming the stranger and caring for the vulnerable, as our staff and volunteers work to resettle these interpreters, drivers, and other workers and their families.
Our country has not undertaken a refugee evacuation of this size since the Vietnam War. It is therefore time for JFCS East Bay to put our 144-year history of refugee resettlement into hyperdrive.
Our Refugee Services team will need a significant amount of support to pull off the demands of the next few weeks and months. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. We are one JFCS East Bay, and this is the time to come together in service to our newest community members.
It’s time to mobilize. Here are some ways you can get involved and support our immediate refugee needs:
VOLUNTEER: Please fill out our Volunteer Form. Volunteers can assist our case managers with tasks such as airport pickups, signing up refugees for their social services benefits, helping register children for school, providing ESL language support, and other related needs.
DONATE: Your financial donations are needed now more than ever to ensure we have the proper staffing to support new refugees. Please click here to make a donation to JFCS East Bay.
SUPPORT: Please consider purchasing something from our Amazon Wish List. These items are shipped to our office in Concord and put directly into the hands of refugees.
Thank you so much for joining us in this urgent effort. Together, we can replace fear and displacement with a new home and renewed hope.