Connecticut Post (Sunday)

‘We will work and fight for them’

43 Connecticu­t residents stuck in Afghanista­n

- By Liz Hardaway

At least 43 Connecticu­t residents are still stuck in Afghanista­n, according to an elected official and refugee resettleme­nt agencies.

Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, or IRIS, is working with the U.S. Department of State and other organizati­ons on the ground in Afghanista­n to get the 43 residents, who are also IRIS clients, to safety, according to Ann O’Brien, IRIS’ director of community engagement.

These 43 residents resettled in Connecticu­t from Afghanista­n about five or six years ago. The vast majority hold green card and four are U.S. citizens, according to Chris George, the executive director of IRIS, which is a non-profit agency helping refugees and other displaced people resettle in Connecticu­t. Some are families with children enrolled in the New Haven and West Haven school districts.

“Many of them went back to Afghanista­n this summer as what they thought would be their last chance to see their loved ones,” George said. However, they ended up trapped.

Since the United States withdrew its military presence from Afghanista­n, George said these families have been in hiding, mostly in the Kabul area, waiting to get the chance to come home. In the meantime, they’ve run out of money, so the agency has had to drop funds so the families can purchase groceries.

“They’re frustrated and they have even begun to lose some hope,” George said. “We are not resting until they all come home.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the 43 residents is “just a partial list.”

“We know there are hundreds more like them throughout Afghanista­n who are in hiding and hunted by the Taliban,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal said there are hundreds, likely thousands, of U.S. citizens, as well as Afghan allies with targets on their backs, still stuck in the country, “but nobody knows for sure.”

Last week, Blumenthal, refugee resettleme­nt agencies and nongovernm­ent groups were able to organize with Sayara Internatio­nal to fly 800 people out of the country on two charter planes.

These residents and allies are being evacuated to nearby, safe countries via charter planes or ground transporta­tion, Blumenthal said. They then are taken to military bases until they arrive in the United States.

Officials have been working with a network comprised of veterans organizati­ons, relief agencies and others to form a “Digital Dunkirk” to help people evacuate, Blumenthal said.

Earlier this month, a U.S. delegation met with senior Taliban representa­tives in Doha, Qatar, to discuss security and terrorism concerns, human rights and safe passage for U.S. citizens and Afghan allies, according to the U.S. Department of State.

“The United States should insist as a preconditi­on for any talks that Afghanista­n commit to enable these Americans and Afghan allies to leave, along with women, leaders and advocates and others who are in danger. They have targets on their backs,” Blumenthal said. “We have a moral imperative to keep our promises to them that we will work and fight for them.”

“Our nation has a moral and humanitari­an obligation to protect and evacuate these friends and allies, not just Americans, but also the translator­s, interprete­rs, journalist­s,” Blumenthal said. “We have made it our mission.”

Meanwhile, resettleme­nt agencies IRIS and CIRI, or the Connecticu­t Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, are still helping refugees acclimate to the state.

“The trauma is immense,” said Ashley Gaudiano, the director of external affairs for CIRI. The agency has resettled 10 people from Afghanista­n and expects to get a family of seven this coming week.

Gaudiano said the agency anticipate­s getting three to five families every week until March 2022.

From Oct. 8 to Oct. 13, IRIS welcomed 40 Afghan refugees and will bring in 46 more by Monday. In August, the agency welcomed 42 refugees, O’Brien said.

IRIS anticipate­s welcoming another 200 refugees in November and December.

Some refugees have been staying in hotels, churches, temporary housing and with other Afghan families, while others have gone into apartments prepared by IRIS.

George said the people of Connecticu­t have been incredibly generous, supportive and welcoming of Afghan refugees.

He suggests communitie­s form groups and get trained by IRIS to welcome a refugee family to their community if they want to help.

Those looking to co-sponsor a family should visit CoSponsors­hip.

 ?? Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Homa Assadi, an Afghan chef at Sanctuary Kitchen in New Haven, said in early September that she still had family and friends in Afghanista­n.
Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Homa Assadi, an Afghan chef at Sanctuary Kitchen in New Haven, said in early September that she still had family and friends in Afghanista­n.

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