As U.S. forces pulled out of Afghanistan in August, Jewish Family Services of Delaware pledged to help 30 refugees start a new life in the First State. Since then, 24 individuals from Afghanistan, plus another 18 from Rwanda, Sudan, and other countries have begun the resettlement process in New Castle County.
The 24 Afghan refugees are among thousands who’ve been staying at military bases in the U.S., getting vaccinated and background-checked while waiting to be settled. Another 25 refugees are expected before the end of the year.
“Now, that doesn’t sound like a lot when there are 64,000 people waiting to resettle, but it was what we knew we could manage,” said Rosi Crosby, chief strategy officer for JFS Delaware, which manages the state’s refugee program.
“The key to managing and resettling an individual is obviously housing, food security, employment, transportation, and education. And so JFS spent between six and eight weeks working with many, many partners in the community to find sufficient housing,” she said.
The first Afghan refugees sent to Delaware in September were a mother and her three sons, two teenagers, and an 8-year-old. They were helped by an interfaith collaboration between Congregation Beth Shalom, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Tarbiyah Islamic School, and the Islamic Society of Delaware.
Other refugees that have since arrived here include a family of six who had their home destroyed and all of their possessions stolen as they escaped Afghanistan. Some adults have arrived alone, like one mother still waiting to be reunited with her children and another man who left his family of six behind in Afghanistan in hopes they would one day be able to rejoin him in America.
“When you see those pictures of those beautiful children, and his wife, that are feeling that they have an opportunity because he’s here, but also feeling very lonely: It’s real. It becomes very, very real when you see those pictures,” Crosby said.
Refugees are provided cell phones when they arrive here and are, in most cases, able to communicate with their loved ones while they’re separated.
Many have been through traumatic circumstances to get here, so JFS is providing trauma-informed care to help them cope.
“We are recognizing that each family’s trauma and experience and needs are very uniquely theirs,” Crosby said. “It’s like saying everybody from the United States is the same. Well, not everybody even in Delaware is the same and our needs aren’t the same. And so each family’s needs are very different and very complicated.”
JFS has been getting lots of help from a broad group of faith groups. “It’s a surge of support from the entire Delaware Presbytery, from the entire Seventh Day Adventist organization, from the Lutheran community, from the Jewish community,” Crosby added. “All are involved in some way, whether that’s volunteering to set up a house or being part of a circle of care for these families.”
Part of that care includes helping families adjust to some of the conveniences of American life. Crosby said she helped a family this weekend learn how to navigate the kitchen.
“I was with another family and they were putting a metal pan into the microwave. If you don’t have a microwave, then you’re not going to know not to put in the metal pan. There’s just so many things about life that they’re learning,” Crosby said.
“I want to be very clear, the Afghan families that are here and the other families from these other countries are experienced, brave, capable individuals that want to succeed in the United States and are working really closely with us to just understand the components of life,” she said.
For those looking to help, JFS is accepting donations on its website. Back in August, the group was collecting things like towels and sheets, and other supplies, but after a flood of donations, Crosby says financial support is a much more effective way to provide immediate assistance. The group is directing donations of clothing to be sent to the Friendship House Clothing Bank. They’re asking for furniture or other household items to be donated directly to Habitat for Humanity.
This weekend, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Zeta Omega chapter is hosting its annual WinterFest event which raises money to support JFS Delaware’s refugee work. The group will be collecting Walmart, Target, and Visa gift cards at the event which will be provided to the refugees.
Crosby says the gift cards provide families with a “feeling of independence and self-sufficiency … If you have a gift card, you can go in and pick the shirt you want, pick the socks that you like, pick the snow boots that you know you’re going to need.”