New model to help refugees built for Afghans, scales to support Ukrainians
DURHAM, New Hampshire, Aug 15 (Reuters) – Since July, Dmitry Vorobiova, 39, his partner Olena, 36, and their dog have been living with Michael Glover, 64, a software engineer who had extra space in his six -bedroom after the death of his wife.
Previously strangers, Glover and the Ukrainian couple have built a quiet routine together in the three-story home in his small eastern New Hampshire town: Dmitry and Glover jog in the evenings and sometimes the two Glover cooks grill chicken for dinner.
Glover’s home – now a haven for the couple, who fled their home in Kharkiv, Ukraine – is part of a local “sponsorship circle”, a program that began last year to support Afghans evacuated after the chaotic withdrawal of the US military, which recently expanded to help Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion of their country.
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The program – launched by a coalition of nonprofits in partnership with the US State Department – allows any group of five or more individual adults to support a refugee’s temporary resettlement in the United States, work traditionally carried out by a handful of well-established resettlement agencies.
The effort is still low. Sponsorship circles like the one Glover has been part of so far have supported the arrival of about 600 Afghans and only 20 Ukrainians, according to Sarah Krause, director of the New York-based Community Sponsorship Hub, which leads the national initiative. Another hub staffer said an additional 40 Ukrainians are currently being processed for assistance.
The administration of US Democratic President Joe Biden wants to involve local communities in supporting refugees after the previous Republican administration of former President Donald Trump cut refugee admissions to the lowest level in modern history and closed a third of resettlement agencies. Read more
The State Department plans to launch a new private sponsorship program later this year that would allow U.S.-based groups identify, match and support individual refugees overseas seeking to come to the United States. The initiative would change the way refugees are resettled in the United States, said Elizabeth Foydel, director of private sponsorship at the New York-based International Refugee Assistance Project.
The government’s pilot program “will incorporate lessons learned” from emergency initiatives that responded to conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine, a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. The goal is for private sponsorships to become “a fundamental part of refugee resettlement in the United States,” the statement said.
Glover, whose group was among the first emergency initiatives, sees refugee housing as a way for him to honor the memory of his late wife. “Carol in her life has given a lot,” he said of her. “I’ve been very successful in what I do and at some point you wonder what we’re giving back.”
More than 10.4 million Ukrainians have fled since the start of the conflict, which Russia calls a “special military operation”, on February 24. citizens can volunteer to sponsor Ukrainians, a spokesperson for the US Department of Homeland Security said.
Dmitry and Olena fled their home with their 10-year-old fox terrier Jagger – named after Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger – in February when they heard rumors of Russia’s military advance, first joining the family in Russian-controlled Crimea. They didn’t feel safe there, so they left for Istanbul.
As the war in Ukraine escalated, they set their sights on the United States.
The couple didn’t know anyone in the country, so Olena, a dental technician, and Dmitry, a software tester at an IT company, searched the web for US-based churches, thinking they would likely support people in the need.
After emailing more than 100 churches, they were referred to Glover’s sponsorship circle, which had formed months earlier to support Afghan refugees.
MORE HELP THAN THE GOVERNMENT
The community sponsorship center requires sponsorship circles to go through background checks, receive training, create a three-month support plan and raise at least $2,275 for each person they host, the department said. of state.
But circles are less regulated than well-established resettlement agencies, which often have more resources, said Chloe Shiras, program manager at one such HIAS agency, officially known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which oversees Glover’s sponsorship circle.
The circle that Glover is part of was created last year to help one of tens of thousands of Afghan families resettle quickly.
A family of nine who were evacuated to a US military base after the Taliban took over the Afghan capital said the group’s support was essential.
“They helped us more than the government,” said Mariam Walizada, 35, who fled Kabul with her five children, a nephew and husband Mohammad – who worked as a security guard for the Afghan president.
The sponsorship circle found a home in nearby Epping, New Hampshire, paid ten months’ rent, gave Mohammad driving lessons and a car, got him a job at a local hospital, put kids to school, paid for their lawyer, and helped them apply for social services like cash assistance and Medicaid. And the circle of godparents helped welcome the newest member of the family when the Walizadas had a baby girl just over a month ago.
Walizadas and Vorobiovas have found ways to overcome the challenges of a new beginning.
In July, the Walizadas invited Dmitry and Olena and other members of the local sponsor circle to a party in their backyard to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
There, Mariam served a colorful platter of traditional Afghan dishes – beef skewers, naan bread, rice and assorted fruit – with everyone gathering to share the meal.
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Reporting by Sofia Ahmed in Durham, New Hampshire; Editing by Mica Rosenberg
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