At least 100 adults and children fleeing regime change in Afghanistan are expected to settle in the Charleston area in the next six weeks.
North Carolina-based Lutheran Services Carolinas will spend the next month or so preparing for the arrival of the Afghans and their families — and there are ways locals can help.
Speaking at Transformation Table’s Afghan pop-up dinner hosted downtown at Park & Grove Monday night, Bedrija Jazic, Lutheran Services director for refugee services, said the group is in the process of lining up accommodations and employment opportunities for the Charleston newcomers.
The fundraiser Monday raised nearly $8,000 for the group’s refugee efforts, according to a follow-up email sent to attendees.
Jazic said no more than 25 individual or family units — including parents, children and extended family — are expected in the Charleston area by mid-January.
Lutheran Services already hosted refugees in Columbia and Raleigh and was looking to expand in S.C., but the added need with the Afghanistan airlift sped up that process.
“We felt called to respond to that crisis,” Jazic told the City Paper on Thursday.
Consistent with on-the-ground media reports from August’s expedited Afghanistan evacuation, many of those who fled are people who have a history with U.S. operations in the country.
“Most of the people that we had seen so far in our Columbia program, are the people who, in some way, had served with the U.S. military, and they have what we call ‘U.S. ties in the area,'” Jazic said.
Some already had special immigrant visas, but others were able to leave because they may face danger by staying — journalists and nongovernmental organization workers, specifically, according to Jazic. Many already speak some English because of past connections with Americans in Afghanistan, Jazic said.
The United States staged a two-decade anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan that came to an abrupt end this year as the Islamic-fundamentalist Taliban took over much of the nation.
“Some were people who were openly in support of the U.S. and became targets in some way, by Taliban, after the fall of Kabul, and they feared for their life. They had to be evacuated,” Jazic said. “It may be a member of a family that was involved with the U.S. military or in some other ways, but then, their family had become a target as well.”
That’s where Jazic and Lutheran Services steps in. Now, the group is helping facilitate all the logistics the families will need to get back on their feet. Housing, employment, medical attention, public assistance, school enrollment, it all falls to Jazic and her team.
“The goal of our program is to get people independent and self-sufficient as soon as possible,” Jazic said.
But that’s not always easy. Sometimes refugees with highly specialized backgrounds like doctors, lawyers or teachers will have to land in the U.S. by taking up a different job within their old field or another trade entirely.
Doctors, for example, “are not able to practice as a physician here because of the educational constraints and recognizing their diploma and all that,” Jazic said. “But we help them get into a medical field, whether that is working in research or sometimes just being a phlebotomist.”
“It does not happen quickly,” she said.
The primary challenge Lutheran Services faces right now is securing housing for the new Charlestonians — a challenge for anyone, as house-hunters know, particularly on a short timeline.
Employment opportunities are also needed to help families assimilate into local communities. Volunteers are also needed to help organize and support the families.
“Volunteer work is the basics, like providing transportation and providing cultural orientation, teaching English or just becoming a friend,” Jazic said.
As a faith-based group, Lutheran Services also partners with local churches for some support.
Interested employers, anyone with connections to housing and potential volunteers can learn more about Lutheran Services at lscarolinas.net. Donations collected can be marked directly for the group’s local housing assistance fund.