Groups preparing to settle Afghans in NJ

States are about to see the first evacuees now living on military bases. New Jersey is set to get about 500 refugees
Credit: Master Sgt. John Hughel Operation Allies Welcome - Operation Allies Refuge via DVIDS (Defense Visual Information Distribution Service)
Two Afghan evacuees sort through donated clothing at Freedom Village on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, while a soldier plays with a tying Afghan girl.

New Jersey resettlement agencies could help up to 535 evacuees from Afghanistan establish new lives in America in coming months.

The capacity projections for how many Afghans each state will receive are based on the first 37,000 arrivals and may increase over time based on figures shared by refugee coordinators in each state, according to a senior Biden administration official. The figures are from the new Afghan Placement and Assistance Program, which will provide newly arrived Afghans with initial relocation services as they begin to rebuild their lives in the United States.

Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that his office has been in touch with the Biden administration and that New Jersey would receive around 500 Afghan refugees who would ultimately be resettled in the Garden State.

“That is very early stage, but that is something that we feel is something that is both our obligation and responsibility, and we will do everything we can for the folks, most of whom are here temporarily, and for the folks who ultimately end up staying here, we will (do) everything we can to get them settled,’’ Murphy said during his regular coronavirus briefing.

Room for refugees

California is the state that is expected to resettle the most Afghan evacuees, with a capacity of 5,255, followed by Texas with 4,481 and the state of Washington with 1,679.  Pennsylvania’s capacity is 995, while New York state is at 1,143, according to the figures from the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program.

The U.S. State Department works with nine resettlement agencies and their more than 200 affiliates across the country, along with state refugee coordinators, to assess capacity, according to the senior administration official. The agencies will identify the communities where Afghans will move to from the temporary shelters they are living in now at several military bases across the country, including Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County.

Afghan evacuees will also be able to give their input on where they want to settle, in case they want to move closer to family or friends already living in the country, or to places where there are Afghan American communities already, the senior administration official said.

Ties to Americans

Most Afghans who will be resettled have worked with the United States in its mission in Afghanistan, including across military, diplomatic and development efforts, or are family members of someone who did, according to officials. Thousands more worked as journalists, human rights activists or humanitarian workers and had careers that put them at risk, which would make them eligible for certain visas. Others are also family members of American citizens or legal permanent residents.

New Jersey does not have a large Afghan immigrant community. There are an estimated 156,400 Afghans who live in the United States, according to the 2019 American Community Survey, with roughly 3,100 in New Jersey.

Courtney Madsen, director of Church World Service’s office in Jersey City, said her agency continues to prepare for the resettlement of Afghan evacuees by collecting financial donations.

Interfaith-RISE, a resettlement agency in Highland Park, has started to raise $125,000 to help refugee families, including those from Afghanistan. The organization has committed to resettling 125 Afghans, according to an email sent to community members on Monday.

“This is an evolving situation, and we are still working with partners to plan for the resettlement of Afghans across northern New Jersey,’’ Madsen said in an email. “We appreciate the outpouring of support we have seen and look forward to introducing Afghans to their New Jersey neighbors soon.”

Representatives from Catholic Charities in Newark and the International Rescue Committee in Elizabeth, two other agencies that help resettle refugees, did not return messages seeking comment on Monday.

Afghan evacuees began to arrive in New Jersey last month after they fled Kabul as the United States ended its war in Afghanistan. About 8,500 Afghan refugees were being temporarily housed at Joint Base McGurie-Dix-Lakehurst when U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez toured the military base earlier this month. At the time, he said the base was preparing to house up to 13,000 Afghan evacuees.

Photos released by the Department of Defense of what is now being called “Liberty Village’’ show adults picking out clothing and eating, while children swing on playgrounds and play basketball with servicemen.

It’s not known whether educational services will be offered to school-age children living at the base. The state Department of Education, along with the state’s Office of Emergency Management and the governor’s office are evaluating the “educational needs of the refugees,’’ said Shaheed Morris, a spokesman for the department.  Morris would not say what the evaluation would entail.

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