How to help Afghan special immigrant applicants and refugees in Virginia

Virginia News

BLACKSTONE, Va. (WRIC) — Since Virginians learned that Fort Lee and Fort Pickett would be temporarily housing Afghan special immigrant applicants and refugees fleeing from the Taliban to the United States, several local residents have inquired about providing assistance.

Fort Pickett is a Virginia Army National Guard installation, located near the town of Blackstone. As of Thursday, details about how to provide assistance are limited.

“Right now, we don’t have details because the sit is still being set up and receiving donations requires its own logistics operation,” a Virginia Army National Guard spokesperson told 8News. “As soon as things develop further, we will be able to share more details about what people can do.”

Even Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn said that he is awaiting further instructions, as the area prepares to welcome thousands of Afghans.

“I have received a lot of questions from the public, from people who want to help and they’re asking, ‘What do they need? What items do they need? Where can I take those items?’ and my answer has had to be, ‘I don’t know the answers,'” he said. “It’s very premature, very preliminary, and I suspect we’ll find more information as this weekend approaches.”

According to the governor’s office, the current capacity at Fort Pickett is 3,800, with plans to increase that to 5,000, and even 10,000, if needed. The first projected arrival of Afghan special immigrant applicants and refugees there is Saturday, Aug. 28, though it’s unknown how many people the base is expecting.

“I have been assured and told by several military friends I have, including some who served in Afghanistan, that these are the best of the best,” Coleburn said. “They went to great lengths to help us at their own peril, peril to their own families. These folks are 11,000 miles from home and they’re probably now facing the harsh realization that they can never return.”

Coleburn said that he has not yet been told whether the Afghan special immigrant applicants and refugees will be out in the community, nor what kind of assistance Fort Pickett may require.

“I think it’d be kind of neat to meet some of them and to thank them. But also, we have a pandemic, there are protocols in place, and I don’t want our local people, including this mayor, to get in the way,” he said. “I feel very confident that if help was needed, it would be asked for and this community would provide it, and that call may come next week, it may come Saturday, it may be a month from now.”

Both Fort Lee and Fort Pickett shared information on their respective Facebook pages about organizations for local residents to contact to get involved. Communications Officer Patricia Chourio with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which works to provide critical services to refugees and immigrants to help them become self-reliant, confirmed to 8News that the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Commonwealth Catholic Charities are helping in the assistance efforts of incoming Afghans to Virginia.

The IRC said that it has been working with the U.S. government to help process Afghan arrivals and provide them ongoing support as they travel to their final destination in the U.S. The largest need across all of the organization’s offices is finding housing for incoming Afghans.

“Most families will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs before moving into permanent housing, and offices have a critical need for funding to secure these temporary accommodations,” according to a release sent to 8News about how to help the Afghan evacuees in Central Virginia. “Funding for permanent housing, such as rental assistance, is also needed to ensure housing stability for arriving individuals and families.”

Through the IRC, there are a number of ways in which the public can assist:

  • Donate directly to the IRC in Richmond. Funds and in-kind items will benefit Afghan and refugee families. In addition to housing, financial support will help the IRC increase capacity for Afghan language interpretation, trauma-informed counseling and case management, psychosocial support, family reunification support and cash assistance for basic needs.
  • Members of the public can shop from IRC’s Target Charity Wishlist, which includes a list of needed items.
  • Welcome a refugee. Local residents can open their home as a place of refuge for emergency temporary housing with IRC’s partner Airbnb’s Open Homes Program.
  • Become a volunteer by offering to help at the office closest to home.

8News reached out to Commonwealth Catholic Charities, as well, for information on how to assist that organization, and is waiting to hear back.

“We welcome, we want to help, we’re compassionate — can’t imagine the horrors they’ve gone through,” Coleburn said. “But, at some point in a few days from now, I think the local community needs to know from higher-ups officially, on-the-record what is the timetable, what does it look like two weeks from now, two months from now.”

Those looking to assist the Afghan special immigrant applicants and refugees coming to Virginia are urged to do so through informed decisions by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Although not named specifically in the information provided by Fort Lee, Fort Pickett and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the BBB provided a list of accredited charities below, which are organizations that meet the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability, to raise funds for assistance in Afghanistan:

“We have our hands full in Nottoway County as it is, and especially the Virginia National Guard,” Coleburn said. “They are always willing to serve in a variety of capacities, but I imagine this is a fairly new operation for them, and at Fort Pickett, it is the peak of training season […] so it’s definitely caused a stir at Fort Pickett, but one that can be handled.”

8News reached out to Fort Lee for more information about how the public can assist Afghan special immigrant applicants and refugees there, and is awaiting a response.

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