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A letter from IRC in NYNJ: Welcoming Afghans and newcomers

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Many individuals and families are continuing to arrive from Afghanistan. They have been dealing firsthand with a deteriorating sense of instability, family separation, and loss of belonging. In seeking refuge, many Afghan newcomers started at a base camp where they prepare to enter a new city and culture. This new beginning is a challenge for individuals and is marked by ongoing logistics, compounded information, and severe uprootedness. This year has brought a tremendous surge of newcomers from across the globe. 

The IRC in NY/NJ is focused on supporting Afghan and all newcomer arrivals in helping them rebuild their lives under this stressful transition. This requires joining efforts to strengthen coordination and create solutions to best support the needs of families. Under the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program, (APA), the relief program for Afghan entrants determined by the Biden Administration, the IRC in NYNJ launched a new APA case management initiative for Afghan families. The Resettlement & Placement Unit ensures APA cases receive immediate support. The most important necessity for Afghan individuals and families is housing, food deliveries, and access to social benefits. With the high level of APA and existing cases, the IRC has encountered the staggering competition of the housing market. On the one hand, clients need a home, on the other, there is not enough affordable housing available to match the vastly intricated needs of families.  

After the search for housing and social benefits applications, resettlement work does not stop. 

The IRC is gearing up for this next phase, whilst at the same time, enrolling more arrivals and walk-ins into APA case management. The Immigration, Economic Empowerment, and Education & Learning Units are all hands-on deck in coordinating with the Resettlement & Placement team on APA case management.  

The Economic Empowerment (EE) Unit uplifts existing clients’ confidence and sense of hope in their career pathways. This support has helped clients stay resilient in a job market that has been hit by COVID-19 and characterized by firm employment competition. With the increase in Afghan newcomers and the fact that many arrive with an array of prior experiences and interests, it is critical to help build their economic stability. Many of them have to immediately provide for their families. EE is aiming to widen its financial coaching and career programs to account for individuals in need of employment or who are ready to find a career opportunity and uplift their new community. Without connections or a fair start, many Afghan arrivals will need guided support to lean into the job market.  

The Education & Learning (E&L) Unit supports clients’ navigation of services and programming by providing and encouraging learning goals in cultural orientation and English Language classes, in addition to tailored programming. The E&L Unit provides core linguistic and culturally competent assistance for clients’ education goals. At a time when Afghan newcomers are adapting to a new social climate, and navigating public benefits systems, the E&L team is strengthening its youth and adult programming to include these new learners. This support is effective in helping clients communicate and advocate for their families in difficult scenarios. That means preparing Afghan youth for early/late school enrollment and helping them navigate their coursework with the social-emotional tools needed to make up for interrupted education while joining a new education model: the public school system.  

The tremendous uncertainty of resettlement is brought by the fact that newcomers have vulnerable legal status. This is the case for all Afghan newcomers who are either parolees or Special Immigrant Visa holders. This complex layer of resettlement is a burden to all refugees whose access and sense of mobility are left open-ended and unstructured. Even more uncertain is that not all family members have the same status or are together. The Immigration Unit typically supports over 100 immigration cases a year. With the increase of APA caseloads, the IRC in NYNJ aims to balance existing cases and needs to support new APA cases. Without legal support, the resettlement journey is left fractured and more stressful.  

The IRC in NYNJ typically refers clients to mental health partners for tailored mental health support. However, with the increase of Afghan newcomers and the acute trauma experienced, the IRC in NYNJ finds it important to embed mental health support into programming. This is the most effective approach to ensure their social-emotional needs are prioritized. The IRC in NYNJ is calling the attention of trauma-informed mental health support and partnerships to join IRC is supporting clients' mental health journey. 

The IRC understands that newcomers are affected by the trauma of arriving both to the United States and to the base in masses. Moreover, the rapid yet complex process of moving from the base without the time to pause and reflect has led to momentous pressure for families to feel grounded. This experience of continual mobility takes a toll on Afghan families’ mental health. 

LOOKING AHEAD

The IRC in NY typically resettles around 75-100 individuals in a year. The last two months alone have seen twice as many more individuals in need of support. The projected number of resettlement cases is expected to be over 300 for the fiscal year 2022. The IRC in NJ is also expecting to resettle over 300 Afghans over the year to come, and 500 refugees, totaling over 1,000 new Americans across both offices. The IRC in NYNJ will continue to support the resettlement journey of many Afghans and Cuban and Haitian newcomers, whose arrival rates are historic for New Jersey. 

The IRC in NYNJ is thankful for the collective support of community members, organizations, and partners in their actionable efforts to support all areas of need and alleviate staffs’ capacity to best support clients. This prompts the IRC in NYNJ to seek your support in serving the immediate and long-term needs of Afghan individuals and families, as well as immigrant and refugee newcomers from around the world.