Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are among the first US cities to accept Afghan evacuees fleeing the Taliban and the turbulent situation in their home country. As part of Operation Allies Refuge, both cities are working with federal partners and municipal organizations that want to help.
The Commonwealth’s two largest metropolitan areas are enclosed in nearly two dozen American regions that will host Afghan refugees who have received Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) or those who have worked with American forces.
According to the city of Philadelphia, nearly 1,000 evacuees arrived at Philadelphia International Airport over the weekend. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the number of evacuees was growing rapidly, with eight planes arriving on Monday and six more expected on Tuesday. Monday marked the end of the 20 Years War when President Joe Biden confirmed that the last military flight had departed from Kabul Airport shortly before 5 p.m.
Officials from Philadelphia have said that those who walk in will be provided with groceries, diapers, hygiene kits, and more, and that anyone who walks in will receive COVID-19 tests and a medical evaluation. Working with organizations such as the Nationalities Service Center and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) Pennsylvania, officials are seeking help from anyone willing to donate goods and volunteer, especially those who can work as interpreters.
Among the Pittsburgh organizations providing aid is Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS), a United Way Southwestern Pennsylvania beneficiary.
“We take a collaborative approach to resettling Afghan and other refugees, and we believe we must work together to ensure these families and individuals can make Pittsburgh their home,” said Ivonne Smith-Tapia, director of JFCS Refugee & Immigrant Services. “We are grateful for the support from the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and the PA State Refugee Coordinator as we work with multiple community organizations across the city to meet housing, in-kind donation, and volunteer assistance in preparing for arrival Afghan refugees. “
JFCS said it is working with landlords in Allegheny County to relocate evacuees to safe, affordable housing and that they will be housed close to family members whenever possible. SIVs can access the same funding resources and services available to refugees through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, JFCS said. These services include two to three months’ rent, utilities, groceries, and other essentials.
“Some of the biggest challenges we are seeing right now are safe, affordable housing, consistent language access and cultural literacy for basic services, and meaningful employment for more highly skilled people like many of the Afghan SIVs that will arrive,” said Smith-Tapia said.
The legislature has also commented on participation. Governor Tom Wolf held a press conference on Friday confirming that the state is ready to assist evacuees in any way it can.
“Pennsylvania was founded on the ideals of peace, tolerance, and security for all people. It is up to us to emulate the ideals on which Pennsylvania was founded and to be a welcome home for all who seek safe refuge in the United States, ”said Wolf. “As we continue to work with the federal government, my administration offers organizations and communities support and asks community leaders for flexibility and understanding.”
State Representative Jared Solomon did the same in Philadelphia on Tuesday, calling on community members to appear at a press conference with landlords and stakeholders.
“First and foremost is housing,” said Solomon. “We are all partners – government, city advocates, state advocates – all looking for housing for our new friends. We call on all landlords to get involved and support the mission and to work with our partners to secure housing for our new neighbors. “
The US State Department announced that relocation options took into account reasonable cost of living, the availability of housing, and support services and resources. Many evacuees who came to Philadelphia were reportedly taken to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. The facility said it was able to mobilize makeshift shelters for up to 9,500 people for up to a year. Some are expected to have been taken to Camden, NJ for processing, review, and recovery before other safe accommodations can be found.