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Lansing’s Saint Vincent Catholic Charities Helping With Resettlement Of Afghan Refugees

210825_JudiHarris
Courtesy
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Judi Harris
Judi Harris is the Director of Refugee Services at Saint Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing.

It’s been more than a week since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul.

Now, thousands of refugees are fleeing the country.

The U.S. is helping with evacuation efforts, and some refugees will be resettled across the states, including here in Michigan.

Judi Harris is the Director of Refugee Services at Saint Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing.

WKAR’s Megan Schellong spoke with Harris following her time volunteering on the East Coast, where she was helping refugees entering the country.

Interview Highlights:

On What Harris Saw While Volunteering

As Afghan special immigrants were coming to the U.S., they were flown into Washington, D.C. and then taken on buses down to Fort Lee, Virginia. And once they were in Fort Lee, there were groups of us nonprofit organizations, as well as the military and some interpreters who were working with them through the processing to get their final bookings and final medical clearances. And other people worked, so that they can get out to their final destinations, which are all over the United States.

On The Stories She Heard From Some Of The Refugees

That was the biggest thing was one woman, and she was there with her tiny baby. And she just said, “Can you do anything to get my mom out? I left my mom back there.” And these were people who were flying in right after the Taliban had taken Kabul, and they knew that they may be one of the last planes out of there. And so they were they were really shook up about that.

On What People Can Do To Help

First of all, we are having a furniture drive this week at Saint Vincent Catholic Charity. So, we are taking furniture and household goods to help set people up when they get here. And so that'll be [August] 26th, 27th and 28th people can bring things to directly to St. Vincent's.

Interview Transcript

Megan Schellong: It’s been more than a week since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul.

Now, thousands of refugees are fleeing the country.

The U.S. is helping with evacuation efforts, and some refugees will be resettled across the states, including here in Michigan.

Joining me now is Judi Harris.

She’s the Director of Refugee Services at Saint Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing. Judi recently returned from the East Coast, where she was helping refugees entering the country.

Judi, thanks for being here.

Judi Harris: Thanks for having me.

Schellong: You just got back from Virginia where you were helping refugees as they arrived in the U.S. Can you tell us what you saw there?

Harris: So yes, it was a very, quite an emotional experience, actually.

As Afghan special immigrants were coming to the U.S., they were flown into Washington, D.C. and then taken on buses down to Fort Lee, Virginia.

And once they were in Fort Lee, there were groups of us nonprofit organizations, as well as the military and some interpreters who were working with them through the processing to get their final bookings and final medical clearances. And other people worked, so that they can get out to their final destinations, which are all over the United States.

Schellong: Are there any stories from the people you met and talked to that have stuck with you?

Harris: Not so many stories. I didn't pry into their personal affairs, and I didn't talk to them very much. But I did have several people break down in front of me and cry as soon as they got there because they left family behind.

That was the biggest thing was one woman, and she was there with her tiny baby. And she just said, “Can you do anything to get my mom out? I left my mom back there.”

And these were people who were flying in right after the Taliban had taken Kabul, and they knew that they may be one of the last planes out of there.

And so they were really shook up about that [and] very grateful to be here and just very kind and considerate to everybody and understanding that people had done a lot to get them out. But also very, very guilty feeling that their families were left behind.

Schellong: What kind of relief efforts have you and St. Vincent Catholic Charities been focused on?

So right now in Lansing, we're preparing for some Afghans to come here. So, we do expect that there will be some special immigrants and other Afghans depending on how things happen overseas, and how the evacuation goes, who will be coming to Lansing.

And so we are preparing for that, and the biggest preparation for us is looking for housing.

So, we have a housing specialist who's out there, trying to find rental properties and vacancies that we can put people in once they get here.

We've got a great Afghan community here. There's the Afghan Association of Michigan. This is a new organization. We're working very closely with them, because those are folks that are going to help us integrate people once they get here. So, there's a lot of preparation.

We had a prayer vigil even last weekend, which was really wonderful.

So, a lot of people got together on the Capitol and prayed just for the families that are here and their loved ones that they left behind.

Schellong: And Judi, do you know how many refugees will be coming to the Mid-Michigan area?

That's very up in the air right now. But we are hoping to be able to resettle up to a couple of hundred from Afghanistan alone.

We are also expecting about 400 from all other parts of the world.

So, that's always been our projection for fiscal year 2022 will be 400.

And those will be folks coming from Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Burma [and] all of those kinds of places. So, we're expecting them, and then plus maybe a couple of hundred Afghans.

Schellong: If people are looking to help out in any way, how can they do that right now?

There are lots of things we can do. First of all, we are having a furniture drive this week at Saint Vincent Catholic Charities.

So, we are taking furniture and household goods to help set people up when they get here. And so that'll be the 26th, 27th and 28th people can bring things directly to St. Vincent's.

A big way that people can help right now, if they want to help financially, is through our Immigration Law Clinic.

So, Afghans who are here are filing applications to bring their families here [and] to get families out of harm's way. And that's a very costly enterprise. And so, if we can support our Immigration Law Clinic now while filing these applications, that would be really beneficial.

And then when families start arriving, we'll need support, again, for furniture and household goods, as well as volunteers that can come in and help us.

You know, help people learn their way around town and get their social security cards and all those kinds of things, and maybe even help them to get jobs.

And then we can always use financial contributions because, you know, the money that we get from the federal government is never enough.

Schellong: Judi Harris is the Director of Refugee Services at Saint Vincent Catholic Charities here in Lansing.

Judi, thanks for your time.

Harris: Thanks for having me.

The furniture drive is located at 2800 West Willow. St. in Lansing.

It starts August 26 and runs through Saturday, August 28 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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