With hundreds of Afghan refugees arriving through Dulles International Airport and into the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, Georgetown University students have a valuable opportunity to provide assistance amid the emergence of a global issue. The way D.C. residents respond to this crisis has the potential to unite a city known for its divisive politics. In order to extend an open hand to the newest members of the District, residents should engage in a wide variety of relief efforts, from supplying donations to opening their homes for temporary residence.
When the evacuation campaign ended Aug. 31, the United States and its coalition partners had flown out over 123,000 civilians from Afghanistan. Afghan refugees were then taken into countries such as Germany, Qatar and the United States. The emergency situation led the U.S. government to authorize $500 million in emergency funds for the needs of migrants. Although those who escaped are safe from immediate danger, they left behind family, friends and personal belongings. Ensuring Afghan refugees find a home in the United States demands more than basic supplies; it requires that U.S. residents reach out to new families and form connections transcending cultural barriers.
According to federal officials, more than 31,000 Afghan refugees had arrived in the United States by early September and 50,000 more are expected in the coming month. After passing through the airport, refugees are temporarily housed in facilities such as the Dulles Expo Center and Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale Campus. The DMV community has not backed down from the urgent situation and quickly responded to calls for aid. Afghan D.C. residents who feel a personal connection with the situation are mobilizing for donations. In addition, nine D.C. chefs organized a fundraiser event to raise money for Homes Not Borders, which provides assistance to refugees in the city. These efforts display immense compassion and provide a scalable model for what a strong support system can look like.
Despite this outpouring of support, refugees still face myriad barriers to building a new life in D.C. Most Afghan refugees receive $1,225 in cash benefits when entering the country, which falls well under the average monthly rent of $2,000 in D.C, and resettlement organizations often rely on public donations to secure basic necessities. To make matters worse, many U.S. interpreters and guides were unable to obtain Special Immigration Visas on short notice, which would have qualified them for employment services and financial assistance. Instead, the refugees’ “humanitarian parolee” status only grants them housing and stipends for 90 days. Refugee organizations are struggling to provide the services the visa would have fulfilled, along with additional resources such as phone calls, mental health support and health care services.
Legislative action is necessary to create long-term solutions, but in the meantime, support must primarily come from within the community. Many of the initiatives responding to the crisis are requesting contributions from people across the world. Prominent refugee organizations such as Catholic Charities Migration & Refugee Services and International Rescue Committee have created Amazon wish lists for supplies, and Airbnb vowed to house more than 20,000 refugees worldwide and are urging host families to sign up for the program.
Members of the Georgetown community should take action to continue these organizations’ efforts in welcoming Afghan refugees to the United States. On Georgetown’s campus, students can donate resources as part of the partnership between #NoLostGeneration and Lutheran Social Services, and they can also support Georgetown University Student Association Senators’ recent call for Georgetown to provide student visas for Afghan students.
D.C. residents are composed of people of all ethnicities and backgrounds. Let us display our acceptance of all people by donating our time, money or resources to the multitude of organizations and movements responding to the refugee crisis.
Angela Yu is a first-year in the School of Foreign Service. District Discourse is published every other week.