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Advocates Call On Feds To Expedite Evacuations Of Conn. Residents And Families In Afghanistan

Camila Vallejo
Connecticut Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal talks to reporters and advocates for refugee resettlement on the steps of First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven on Sept. 13, 2021.

Connecticut expects to welcome hundreds of Afghan refugees in the next couple of months as resettlement agencies and groups across the state are assigned families already on military bases.

But as advocates ramp up efforts to receive as many families as possible, they’re also calling on the U.S. State Department to focus on those who haven’t been able to leave the Taliban-controlled country despite their ties to the U.S.

Advocates say dozens of Afghan Americans from Connecticut are still stuck in the capital city of Kabul with no way out.

“They tried to get out through the airport, but they were beaten and bruised in the process,” said Chris George, executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven. “They have been hunkering down in safe houses in Kabul. They’re running out of food and, I have to be honest, running out of hope.”

IRIS is working with 45 Afghan Americans in Kabul. They are all U.S. citizens or green card holders but haven’t been able to leave the country as the Taliban’s threat continues to grow.

“They feel like they are bargaining chips in some high-stakes game of international diplomacy,” George said. “Our state department has not been doing enough to bring these people home.”

George says some of them are hiding with their families. whom they refuse to leave behind because they fear what could happen to them. For every person who is a citizen or green card holder, there are at least five family members in danger and seeking refuge, George added.

“It is an agonizing decision that Afghans need to make,” he said. “Do I take a seat on a plane and come to the U.S. for my safety, or do I stay and protect my brother and my sister and my parents?”

George was joined by other refugee resettlement advocates and Connecticut officials on the steps of First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven on Monday to call on the federal government for help.

“There is a moral imperative. We owe Afghan allies the safety and escape they need from the murder and torture they and their families face. They now have targets on their back because they demonstrated the courage to side with us,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut as he promised to fight for quicker evacuation with Congress’ return this week.

But the effort to help Afghan Americans and allies is twofold. Blumenthal said evacuation goes hand in hand with better financial support for resettlement agencies.

While there is no estimate on how much is needed yet, Blumenthal said he’ll push for Congress to allocate more dollars to agencies as Connecticut organizations continue to do their part.

“We ought to make it a priority,” Blumenthal said. “Resettling means more than words. It means assistance, services, jobs, shelter, housing, education -- all of the necessary services that will enable these refugees to become productive new Americans.”

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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