Local organizations work to help Afghan refugees

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Emma Carlson, Contributing Writer

As Afghan refugees enter the United States seeking asylum, many are landing at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, before making their way to military bases in the state, as well as in Texas, New Jersey and Wisconsin, according to a National Public Radio article

Many local organizations are providing services to refugees. Members of the VCU and Richmond communities can provide aid through monetary or physical donations and volunteer services.

ReEstablish Richmond is a nonprofit organization in Richmond with the mission of “connecting refugees and new immigrants to the resources needed to establish roots, build community, and become self-sufficient,” according to their website.

Laura Jones, associate director of ReEstablish Richmond, noted that many of the organization’s current Afghan clients were reaching out for help to assist family members in leaving Afghanistan.

“That has been the primary focus of our work these last few weeks,” Jones said, “Specifically connecting them to the resources that are available.”

In Afghanistan, the Taliban began taking control of provincial capitals on Aug. 6. The organization captured the country’s capital, Kabul, by Aug. 15, just a few hours after the Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, according to the BBC

“That assumption — that the Afghan government would be able to hold on for a period of time beyond military drawdown — turned out not to be accurate,” stated U.S. President Joe Biden in a White House press release.

Biden announced U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 30, marking an end to the 20-year war. The war was started in retaliation against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, according to a White House press release.  

The last U.S. military aircraft left Afghanistan on Aug. 31, yet diplomatic missions continued, according to BBC

Some of the recent work ReEstablish Richmond has been doing involves determining evacuation eligibility of clients’ family members and enrolling them on evacuation lists, according to Jones.

ReEstablish Richmond is also in need of volunteers, especially English tutors and individuals who speak Dari or Pashto. No educational background is required, and with a high potential for incoming evacuees to settle in Virginia near family, this need will likely increase.

Volunteer English tutors will have access to English as a Second Language training and educational material, along with connections to other ESL tutors in the organization, according to Jones. Individuals can sign up on ReEstablish Richmond’s website.

“A big part of volunteering is consistency. Showing up every week, whether on a FaceTime call or whatever,” Jones said, “Letting that client know they’re going to be talking or interacting with someone who is much more familiar with life and language and customs and culture here, and just helping them feel more welcome.”

Both Woody and Nelsen Funeral Homes in Richmond are gathering supplies for refugees located in Fort Lee, in Virginia. Items of critical need include baby formula for infants greater than one year old, sports bras and leggings for women and girls, electric kettles and more, according to Woody and Nelsen President Lacyn Barton.

Donations can be delivered to any of the Woody or Nelsen Funeral Homes between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday.

Fort Lee requests that donated clothing items not be from thrift stores or contain logos or inappropriate images, as to provide a better welcoming experience for refugees. Summer clothes for all age groups are preferred. 

The Pace Center, located near Monroe Park, held a gathering on Sept. 1 to discuss recent events in Afghanistan and their effect on the VCU community. Pace is a ministry of the United Methodist Church, according to their website, and they hold blood drives, food pantries and community meals among more for the local Richmond community.

The Pace Center is also hosting “Cards of Hope” on Sept. 10 for VCU students to make cards to welcome Afghan refugees, according to director of The Pace Center, Rev. Katie Gooch. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at their chapel on 700 W. Franklin St. 

Gooch mentioned that the International Rescue Committee is in need of volunteers to assist refugees in their resettlement process. Opportunities with the IRC include welcomers, personal shoppers and drivers, among others. More information can be found on the IRC website

For more information on how to volunteer, visit reestablishrichmond.org/volunteer-opportunities or rescue.org/volunteer.

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