Refugee Milestone: A lease for a new life in Iowa.

As of June 10, 2022, all of Catholic Charities’ Afghan clients have a pathway to permanent housing.

This is a significant accomplishment to celebrate for Afghan clients and the Refugee Services team at Catholic Charities. Housing more than 300 Afghans in Central Iowa within a defined period of time was both challenging and rewarding, knowing that self-sufficiency is a primary objective for all refugee resettlement activities. Due to scarcity of available housing in the area, as well as the number of dwellings needed for arrivals, clients and refugee staff worked together to identify the best housing arrangement for each family. This month, housing is now a reality for all clients.

In August of 2021, many Afghans had to flee from their native country to seek refuge and re-settle in a new country. While many were already affected by trauma and loss, those individuals who were evacuated and flown to U.S. military bases for a few months also needed to resettle in a new state, seeking a new home with new customs and cultural norms. This humanitarian evacuation was fast-paced and required diligence, commitment and mutual understanding by all.

This time-sensitive and distinctive resettlement also impacted refugee resettlement agencies across the United States. For example, in the past few years, Catholic Charities and U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), another local resettlement agency, were resettling only a small number of refugee arrivals due to the pandemic and decreased refugee arrivals.  Staff at both agencies had dwindled, with Catholic Charities employing only four employees in the refugee office. Other refugee resettlement agencies had made the decision to discontinue services.

In the first two weeks of October 2021 and with six days’ notice, Catholic Charities received 31 cases of Afghans, totaling 85 individuals. On average, 20 Afghan arrivals would arrive each week for the rest of the month. With a brief reprieve in November, Afghan arrivals resumed in December 2021 through spring 2022. Compared to regular resettlement placement in a year, these numbers were a significant increase. During this same period, refugee resettlement staff numbers, including case managers, also  increased to meet this growth of refugee arrivals.

The pace was unprecedented for all Central Iowa resettlement agencies, along with their community partners. Refugee resettlement means certain standards and needs  are met for clients, including airport reception, housing, employment, school enrollment, medical appointments, public benefits, cultural orientation, bus training, English language classes and other services. Agencies have 90 days of funding and resources to complete these activities.

Local partners include hotels, law enforcement, hospitals, school districts, parishes, volunteers, donors, government officials, as well as volunteers.

“Arrivals from Afghanistan were incredibly different from the refugees we normally serve,” said Catholic Charities Refugee Services manager, Kelyn Anker. “This was a humanitarian effort on a huge scale. I am so grateful for our Catholic Charities team and our community partners who worked tirelessly to meet the need.”

One client recently shared his experience. He worked with the U.S. military as a soldier for 12 years in Afghanistan. He arrived in February 2022 with his wife and three teen-age children. They were housed in temporary housing and provided a case manager who spoke their language.

He expressed gratitude for his case manager’s support and availability. “When we called our case manager, she either responded, or sent someone else to meet our needs,” he said. He commented that the pace of life is much faster in America, but indicated that his family was happy and comfortable.

They have since moved to an apartment in West Des Moines. He is working and his children are registered for school for the fall semester.

Scott Caldwell, Director of Programs at Catholic Charities, said “We are honored to help the people of Afghanistan during this challenging time.  Our refugee staff and volunteers, under the leadership of Kelyn, have been responsive and taken seriously the varied and many needs of our clients. Working with our funding partners, including the USCCB, we have consistently communicated and addressed any unique circumstances as they have been presented.”

When client housing is secured, the refugee transportation staff coordinates pick-up and delivery of furnishings, including donated items. To learn how you can help the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program, visit catholiccharitiesdm.org.

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