Refugees from Afghanistan among dozens recently resettled by JFCS
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JFCSRefugee & Immigrant Services

Refugees from Afghanistan among dozens recently resettled by JFCS

JFCS has been called upon to resettle 320 refugees in Pittsburgh by next summer. The agency has been "inundated with calls to help.”

Airplane arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport with Afghan families aboard; JFCS had just four hours notice (Photo courtesy of Allie Reefer/JFCS)
Airplane arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport with Afghan families aboard; JFCS had just four hours notice (Photo courtesy of Allie Reefer/JFCS)

Pittsburghers have shown overwhelming support for recent Jewish Family and Community Services’ (JFCS) efforts to resettle 320 refugees, many of them from war-torn Afghanistan, which fell to under Taliban control last summer.

JFCS, which has been resettling refugees in the Greater Pittsburgh region for decades, has resettled 72 people since June, including two Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, cases and five Afghan parole, or APA, cases, officials said. They are expecting to resettle a total of 320 individuals by June 2022.

Pittsburghers have responded in kind, offering everything from monetary donations to groceries and gift cards, furniture and even their own homes for temporary refugee housing. JFCS has received $121,679 in individual gifts since announcing the new wave of arrivals in June, as well as $5,000 from the Brother’s Brother Foundation to respond to the arrival of families specifically from Afghanistan.

During the same time period, more than 300 people have offered to volunteer with JFCS’ Refugee & Immigrant Services department, officials said.

“We have found the Pittsburgh community to be incredibly welcoming,” JFCS President and CEO Jordan Golin said. “We’ve been inundated with calls to help.”

JFCS also has received support from Pittsburgh and Allegheny County government officials, as well as in the form of partnerships and collaborations. Today, the group is working with 10 area organizations — including Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Red Cross of Greater Pennsylvania, and Salvation Army — to address refugee housing needs, donations and the use of volunteers.

Golin said there are some connections to be seen between the Afghan refugees of 2021, the Jewish Russian refugees of the 1990s and European Jews fleeing Europe in the wake of World War II.

“There is not a direct link in the sense of relationships between the individuals [but] there’s a relationship for sure in the reasons why we do this for Afghan refugees today,” Golin said. “Thankfully, today there are fewer Jewish refugees out there but there are people who need help … and we feel we have an obligation to do something.”

Ivonne Smith-Tapia, JFCS’ refugee and immigrant services director, said one difference between Afghans and previous refugees is time. While prior waves of immigrants came with paperwork and three-month timelines, JFCS has grown accustomed to shorter notice and turn-around time with Afghan immigrants, sometimes as short as five hours’ heads-up about a pending arrival.

“My team is incredible — they know what they’re doing [and] we have been able to adapt to the circumstances,” Smith-Tapia told the Chronicle. “We thank everyone for their support.”

JFCS is working with local doctors and hospitals to ensure that Afghan individuals can receive timely and adequate medical care, including COVID-19 shots and all other necessary vaccinations. Another early priority is getting individuals social security cards so they can apply for government benefits, Smith-Tapia said.

Golin stressed his organization is not wading into debate about what the U.S. should do in response to the turbulence in Afghanistan, but merely responding to the government officials — whether they’re Democrats or Republicans — telling them how many families to help resettle.

“We are not partisan, we are not political,” Golin said. “Our role is to help those the U.S. government has authorized to become integrated.” PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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