More than 76,000 Afghan refugees have entered the U.S. since the American military left their country in August 2021. Long-term and sustainable support is essential to their successful resettlement. To that end, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund is providing assistance for refugees beyond basic necessities by awarding $200,000 in grants targeted to building communities that are both welcoming and inclusive for Afghans.
One notable challenge for all refugees is the short-term nature of assistance, as most agencies provide resettlement services for only 90 days, said Lauren Crain, associate director of the fund’s U.S. strategy and programs. The fund rewards programs that exceed temporary support efforts by building communities and workplaces through the engagement of businesses, nonprofits and other funding organizations. Examples include help with navigating government resources, access to transportation, opportunities to learn English and other skills, job placement assistance, and childcare.
“It’s important that the system shifts from humanitarian response to building inclusive communities,” Crain told us. “This includes employers, but also local government, schools, religious organizations and more, and where models like community sponsorship play an important role.”
The recent $200,000 grant awards went to the following organizations: Community Services Agency (COMSA) in Green Bay, Wisconsin; Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (I-ARC) in upstate New York; Ohlone College in Fremont, California; and TIS Foundation in Washington, D.C. Since its launch in 2019, the fund has partnered with more than 90 organizations across the U.S. and Canada, distributing over $14.7 million in support of refugees and immigrants.
Businesses have the opportunity to strengthen resettlement efforts by making an effort to employ newly arrived refugees. Several of the Mariam Assefa Fund’s grantee partners, including I-ARC and Upwardly Global, are offering support to employers looking to hire refugees, as well as other opportunities to engage such as resume reviews or mock interviews, Crain added. Another partner, Welcome.us, connects employers with refugees who are looking for jobs.
Throughout U.S. history, immigrants have been essential in building the economy. With low unemployment rates and many industries struggling to find qualified workers, successful resettlement and employment for immigrants is increasingly important to sustain a healthy economy. For Afghan refugees, the U.S. has an added responsibility to help them thrive in their new communities following the 2021 rapid troop withdrawal after a 20-year war in Afghanistan.
“Fully activating their economic potential will benefit individual immigrants and refugees as well as our economy and communities,” Crain added. “Immigrants and refugees come to our country to live with dignity and respect and build futures for their families and they deserve access to quality education and jobs that value their identities and lived experience.”
The Ohlone College grant is an example of funds earmarked for job training. The college is based in the Bay Area city of Fremont, home to one of the largest Afghan refugee populations in the U.S., Crain noted. Through the grant, refugees from both Afghanistan and Ukraine enroll in an eight-week training program, joining a smart tech cohort at the college. The education program, which includes industry certification and paid apprenticeships, leads to jobs starting at $20 per hour with career pathways for advancement at companies such as Tesla.
Meanwhile, COMSA is working to assist Afghans in the Green Bay area, where approximately 1,200 refugees are resettling. The nonprofit is providing wraparound services such as transportation and English-language training for school-age children, mental-health counseling and culturally responsive childcare.
During last summer’s withdrawal of U.S. troops, among the enduring images are the thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing their homes and leaving behind jobs, family and friends. Almost a year after the U.S. left Afghanistan, the Mariam Assefa Fund’s grants not only help ensure these people’s social and economic inclusion, but that the funds will keep the refugees’ plight and long-term needs in the forefront within their new communities.
Image credit: Nasim Dadfar via Unsplash
Janice Phelan is a communications consultant and freelance writer based in the Kansas City metropolitan area. She has also worked as a journalist and public relations professional with extensive experience in education, health and wellness, workforce development and nonprofits.
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