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Refugee agencies launch fundraising drive to aid Afghans

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APTOPIX Germany Afghanistan Ramstein

Children stand behind a fence in a hangar as they wait for their departure at the Ramstein U.S. Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. The largest American military community overseas houses thousands of Afghan evacuees in a tent city at the airbase. 

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Local refugee service agencies on Thursday announced plans to try to raise $750,000 to help the 350 or so Afghan evacuees who will be resettling to Buffalo in the coming months.

Banding together as the Western New York Refugee and Asylee Consortium, the five agencies said they need to raise that money because most of the Afghans will get no government assistance beyond an initial $1,225 payment. The money the agencies raise will be used to provide housing, health care, food, financial assistance and other aid to the newcomers. 

"Buffalo has a proud history as a welcoming community: businesses, nonprofits, elected officials, neighborhoods, ethnic organizations and individual Buffalonians care for each other every day – not just in snowstorms," said Eva M. Hassett, executive director of the International Institute of Buffalo, which is part of the consortium. "We call on the community once again to show our newest neighbors – who have already been through experiences we cannot imagine – that the heart and spirit of this community is the generosity of its people."

In addition to trying to collect $750,000, the consortium is seeking donations of household items for the new arrivals. Volunteers are also needed to help the Afghans settle in Buffalo.

Titled "Buffalo United for Afghan Evacuees," the effort "will demonstrate the compassion and generosity of our community to these individuals and families, and give them hope and real help for long-term sustainability," said  Deacon Steve Schumer, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Buffalo, another of the refugee resettlement agencies.

The agencies need to raise money to support the Afghan evacuees because most of them don't at this point qualify under federal law as refugees, asylees or holders of special immigrant visas. If they did, they would qualify for federal benefits.

Instead, about 80% of the newcomers will be classified as "humanitarian parolees," meaning they qualify to temporarily relocate to the U.S. for safety reasons -- but that they don't qualify for any other federal benefits beyond an initial payment.

Other partners in the consortium are Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County, Journey's End Refugee Services and Jericho Road Community Health Center.

"Our organization is founded on the belief that God has called and is still calling us to love our neighbors," said Dr. Myron Glick, founder and CEO of Jericho Road. "We look forward to acting out that love in very tangible ways for new Buffalonians – through safe housing, shared meals, health care, trauma support, access to education and many other things most of us here take for granted.”

The agencies announced the fundraising effort at a news conference with Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat who has been pushing President Biden and Congress to increase aid to the 50,000 Afghan newcomers nationwide.

“The United States government must continue to do everything in its power to give refugee resettlement agencies the resources needed to meet this moment," Higgins said.


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