New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
State, feds gear up for refugees
Conn. National Guard to help provide aid for Afghan evacuees
While Gov. Ned Lamont awaits word from federal authorities on the expected flow of Afghan refugees into Connecticut, his administration is negotiating with resettlement agencies on housing, the most expensive need for families who are expected to arrive at the rate of 100 people per month starting in September.
Chris George, executive director of the New Havenbased Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, said Friday he thinks the state will help in finding
places for Afghan families. That will happen after an extensive vetting process that starts at the Kabul airport, continues at air bases in Europe and the Middle East and is completed at U.S. military bases, where resettlement agencies are finally contacted.
Nineteen volunteers from the Connecticut Air National Guard’s 103rd Airlift Wing will journey to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington, N.J. to help with logistics and medical support for refugees being evaluated and housed there temporarily, Major Gen. Francis Evon, adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard, said Friday.
“Our people are trained professionals who understand the urgency, complexity and importance of this mission,” Evon said in a statement.
State government has a limited role, though it will include several departments, including social services. Federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services are the major liaisons between families evacuated by the military and resettlement agencies including IRIS, the Bridgeport-based Connecticut Institute for Refuges and Immigrants and others.
“We’re certainly in contact with the immigration authorities down in Washington, D.C.,” Lamont said after an unrelated event in Danbury on Friday. “They contract with IRIS and a couple of our other immigration groups in the state and we’ll be prepared to do what they ask us to do.”
George singled out U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, for helping hundreds of people try to navigate the evacuation process.
Himes, whose district covers Fairfield County, said Friday that his Washington office has responded to 400 cases involving 700 people, ranging from U.S. citizens to people who might have been civilian employees of the military but do not have proper paperwork beyond a photo of a family member with military personnel.
“College friends have reached out on Facebook,” Himes said, noting that while ethics rules limit his work on Social Security issues to residents of the congressional district, there are no such restrictions for the evacuation of Kabul. “We’ve gotten cold calls out of nowhere. It’s comes from every which way.”
Himes recalled that the last time he visited Kabul was in early 2020, when he was in a group including House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California. He drew parallels between the defeats in Vietnam and Afghanistan.
“There is a lot of soul searching to be done here,” Himes said, recalling the rosy assessments of generals and admirals in January 2020. “The culture of the military is such that a colonel cannot become a general if you’re telling the truth. It’s not part of their culture.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2, said that a large number of the Afghan refugees, many of whom have applied for the Special Immigrant Visa program, are at U.S. military facilities in Qatar and Kuwait awaiting further vetting. Courtney said his office has fielded about 120 calls, mostly from Afghans with family connections in the United States.
President Biden’s budget included $3 billion for security forces in Afghanistan “which obviously has become completely moot,” he said, adding that he could see Congress reallocating some of that funding to Special Immigrant Visa program to expedite processing.
The Connecticut Department of Social Services will develop case files on refugee families as they arrive and along with the private resettlers, will try to help them succeed in their new homes.
“Historically, states have not put up much of their own money from their own state budget to refugee resettlement,” George told an online audience of more than 200 supporters, advocates, potential volunteers and media Friday afternoon.
“Of course, they do something in some ways that’s just as important. Governors have been very welcoming and supportive of refugee resettlement, so that’s a positive thing,” George added. “But in terms of financial or inkind assistance, we are having conversations with state government now about how they can help financially with housing and it’s looking very positive, so I’m optimistic about that.”
It’s too early in the evacuation process to detemine the state’s full role, Lamont said Thursday.
“There has been no outreach yet to Connecticut on how we can support those refugees,” Lamont said. “Generally I’ll be there listening and responsive... I haven’t gotten any asks from the White House yet, but again provided the vetting is serious, we’ll be supportive. We’re getting more and more people out every day.”
While IRIS has already helped resettle some Afghani people arriving since the surprise fall of the
Asian nation to Taliban troops earlier this month, other groups are waiting.
“Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Hartford is not involved in the resettlement of Afghan families at this time but we are eager to participate in the effort when we are presented with the opprounity to do so,” John Noonan, director of development and communications for that agency, said Friday. Catholic Charities has been involved in resettlement operations since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
The U.S. Department of Defense on Friday authorized military bases in Virginia, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Texas and New Mexico to provide temporary housing for thousands of Afghans whose escapes from the embattled region have been aided by the military. The Connecticut Air National Guard group is joining that mission.