Cleveland Resettlement Groups Raise Funds For Afghan Family Visas

An Afghan man carries a girl as he and other refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021
An Afghan man carries a girl as he and other refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport. [Andrew Harnik / AP]

Refugee resettlement and aid agencies are working to bring Afghan families to safety in Cleveland following the crisis abroad. Local agencies including Catholic Charities, Global Cleveland and Refugee Response came together Monday to raise money for visa applications.

The groups raised enough money to pay for just over 300 applications at this time, said Refugee Response Executive Director Patrick Kearns. That money will go toward bringing over the families of Afghan U.S. citizens and permanent residents living in Cleveland, who worked with the U.S. armed forces.

“These are all individuals from the special visa program who worked with the U.S. armed forces, who put their lives on the line,” Kearns said, “and they are trying to get their immediate family members out of the country for their safety.”

The goal is to get the applications for those family members expedited and processed before the United States’ planned withdrawal from Kabul on Aug. 31, Kearns said. Family of those specific U.S. residents and citizens are the priority at this time, he said, because their lives are possibly at increased risk due to the decision to aid the United States.

“These are not new cases,” Kearns said. “We're not taking new family members. This is a family reunification process for families who are in danger.”

But whether the applications are processed by that time will depend on the U.S. State Department. This is an immediate method to attempt safe removal, he said, but there is no guarantee it will work. Pushing the withdrawal date past Aug. 31 could help to bring people to safety, he said.

“There are still U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents that are inside of Afghanistan that cannot get to the airport because of the security concerns,” Kearns said. “There's women, mothers and children who are fearing for their lives even though they have the documentation. So it is a highly complex, very volatile and changing situation.”

Some families have already come to Cleveland and been resettled, said Global Cleveland President Joe Cimperman. The funding for visa applications is helping, he said, but there’s still a lot more work to be done.

“Somebody said, ‘Oh, you're halfway there.’ We're not even 10 percent of the way there,” Cimperman said. “Getting people here clearly is a huge hurdle.”

Global Cleveland has created a landing page with details on the different agencies working together to support Afghan people trying to come to Cleveland, Cimperman said. That page also includes information on how residents can help.

Primary concerns right now are housing and financial aid to cover food and clothing, Cimperman said.

“The news is out there everywhere about what's going on in Afghanistan,” Cimperman said. “What's a little bit more challenging is making sure that people know how they can actually affect change and help people.”

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