The Pentagon says it’s preparing to house up to 22,000 Afghan refugees at Fort Bliss in El Paso and at another military camp in Wisconsin, after the U.S.-backed Afghan government fell to the Taliban following U.S. troop withdrawal from the country.
Other people fleeing Afghanistan will be processed by local organizations, including Refugee Services of Texas, which is preparing to resettle 324 Afghan citizens here in the coming days. Development Director Ashley Faye says the the individuals and families her organization is helping to resettle aren’t technically refugees; they will enter the United States on Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs. Those visas are available to Afghans who worked with the U.S. military in their home country, mostly as translators. Faye says these people now fear retaliation from the Taliban because of their line of work, and are seeking safety in the United States.
The processes for getting refugee status and Special Immigrant Visas in the United States are different, but both are complicated and can be arduous. Faye says a person seeking refuge in another country would apply for refugee status through the United Nations Commission on Refugees while they’re in a third country. Once they receive that status – which is rare – they are sent to a country decided on by the UN. If they’re sent to the United States, they then go through an additional process to be settled here.
“They go through nine national agencies, which then filter down the refugee families to agencies like Refugee Services [of] Texas,” Faye said.
For people seeking a Special Immigrant Visa, they petition for that status directly with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, rather than having to go through the UN first.
Faye says refugee resettlement organizations in the United States struggled during the Trump administration. Many agencies had to close. Faye’s agency managed to continue operating, and she says some easing of resettlement restrictions under the Biden administration has helped.
Now her organization is preparing to take the brunt of people from Afghanistan trying to resettle in Texas.
“We’ve had about 2,000 arrive since July, but now the influx is really starting to pick up,” Faye said. “We’re looking at the first wave being about 2,500 individuals, and like I said, we’ll settle about 324 of those. But the numbers are going to change daily, and they’re going to increase.”
Now, Refugee Services of Texas is looking for people willing to take in Afghan families, as well as for volunteers to help set up apartments for arriving families and provide transportation from airports.
For information about how to get involved with Refugee Services of Texas, visit their website at www.rstx.org.