On October 27, generous Atlantans Dave and Mary Jane Kirkpatrick, hosted Seeking Refuge in Georgia, a fundraising event in support of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Atlanta and Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network (GAIN). Held at Canoe on the banks of the Chattahoochee, the event featured a panel of speakers—Justin Howell, Executive Director of the IRC in Atlanta; Alpa Amin, Executive Director of GAIN; Naser Mohdzaher, Casework Supervisor at the IRC in Atlanta; and Zuhra Aziz, Equal Justice Works Fellow at GAIN—and attendees had the opportunity to learn about humanitarian protections and resettlement efforts for refugees in Georgia.
When explaining how his involvement with this life-saving work started, Dave shared, “I read an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about how this Afghan interpreter, a great ally of the United States military, suddenly needs to evacuate with his family and he has no decision as to where he’s going to live. They say, ‘You’re going to be living in Clarkston, Georgia.’ And this organization called IRC was responsible for meeting him at the airport, resettling him, and helping him get started.” After learning more about our organization, he met with Justin Howell and was then encouraged to attend our World Refugee Day Breakfast Briefing in June, where his understanding of the refugee crisis and investment in our humanitarian mission grew. Dave was later introduced to Alpa Amin and the incredible work of GAIN, and—with his wife Mary Jane—decided to bring friends and colleagues together for an informative and philanthropic gathering, where panelists from both the IRC in Atlanta and GAIN highlighted several of the obstacles facing these new arrivals long after resettling in the United States, and how our two organizations have collaborated to support them.
Here we are a little more than one year later, still working with the families, still filing applications, still reassuring them it was the right thing to do to come to the United States.
In response to the fall of Kabul in August 2021, GAIN launched Project Ally, a volunteer-led effort to file humanitarian parole applications for Afghans in Georgia separated from their families. While humanitarian parole allowed Afghans to be admitted to the U.S. quickly and enables them to stay here for up to two years, it does not guarantee a path to lawful permanent residence or eventual citizenship—unlike those resettled through the traditional refugee system. Now, more than 1,500 Afghans evacuated to Georgia—who are working hard to rebuild their lives in communities across the state—find themselves under a cloud of legal uncertainty. “Crises like that, they’re in the news one minute and then they’re not,” Alpa shared. “Here we are a little more than one year later, still working with the families, still filing applications, still reassuring them it was the right thing to do to come to the United States.”
In the Spring of 2022, the IRC and GAIN began conducting monthly pro se Asylum Clinics for Afghans in Georgia, where dedicated legal volunteers walked through the asylum process—a last resort option for permanent status—with the families. “Even in our best of efforts, we can’t do everything for everyone,” Justin shared. “Refugee resettlement is a community supported endeavor—it’s not only supported by people of good faith and good will and humanitarian spirits who help support us through volunteerism or donations, but also we rely on other community partners—like GAIN—to help us coordinate our efforts to make sure we provide the best services that we can to those families that we’re honored to serve.”
Between March and November 2022, the IRC in Atlanta and GAIN hosted nine Asylum Clinics, serving a total of 413 clients and assisting 74 families in submitting applications for asylum.
In the clinics, while legal volunteers learned about the protected grounds for asylum and what questions to ask, client families—alongside Afghan interpreters speaking Dari and Pashto—learned about their possible pathways to permanent legal status in the United States. As of November 2022, all 822 Afghan evacuees welcomed by the IRC in Atlanta have been screened to determine their best options for permanent status. Between March and November, the IRC in Atlanta and GAIN hosted nine Asylum Clinics, serving a total of 413 clients and assisting 74 families in submitting applications for asylum.
The next generation will be helpful to this country. They will be lawyers, doctors—you see the example. They just need time to adjust themselves.
When asked which parts of the refugee experience he wants others to understand, Naser, originally from Afghanistan himself, shared how assistance from nonprofits led him to want to serve others: “I had $50 in my pocket when I came to this country. With the help of nonprofit organizations, I learned the language, the culture, and found myself travelling to different states and different military bases to offer training in Afghan culture to military personnel pre-deployment.” He emphasized, “The next generation will be helpful to this country. They will be lawyers, doctors—you see the example. They just need time to adjust themselves.”
Much of the success of the IRC in Atlanta is made possible by our donors—generous individuals, community groups, foundations, and corporations—who enable us to provide refugee families with housing, employment services, counseling, English language instruction, immigration relief, and opportunities to integrate and enjoy American culture. We are sincerely grateful for Dave and Mary Jane Kirkpatrick for their passion for and commitment to our humanitarian mission!
How you can help
If you are interested in supporting the IRC in Atlanta, like the Kirkpatricks, please contact our Senior Development Manager, Heloise Ahoure, at [email protected] or on 770-570-9156. You can also give securely online to support the locally funded Atlanta office of the IRC here: Rescue.org/GiveAtlanta
Join us in asking your members of Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. This life-changing legislation will help Afghans who were evacuated last year to rebuild their lives and plan for the future across U.S. communities, providing them with a pathway to lawful permanent status and eventual citizenship—just like any other refugee welcomed to this country.
To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Senior Development Manager, Heloise Ahoure, at [email protected] or 678-636-8941.