Afghan Refugee Family
(iStock)

Jewish Family Services helps refugees like those from Afghanistan from the day they arrive in the U.S. until the day they receive citizenship.

As chaos and violence wash over Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, resettlement agencies across the U.S. are preparing to support an influx of Afghan refugees fleeing the country.

Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County, which has a robust resettlement program in place, is one of the agencies getting ready to help. They’re now resettling their first Afghan refugee since the violence escalated a few weeks back.

JFS also has two additional cases in the pipeline for Afghan refugees hoping to start new lives in Washtenaw County, but are preparing to help dozens, if not hundreds more, in the coming months.

The food pantry at Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County
The food pantry at Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County Austin Thomason

“These individuals were evacuated in early July,” Shrina Eadeh, director of the resettlement program at JFS, explains of the two waiting cases. “Right now, they’re currently in Virginia and Texas doing their processing.”

The first Afghan refugee helped by JFS this summer had a family member living in Washtenaw County. Other cases, however, are known as “free cases.” In these particular cases, individuals arrive without friends or family in the area. Upon receiving a case, JFS reviews it and determines if their organization will be a good host for that individual’s unique needs.

Yet JFS is no stranger to the Afghan humanitarian crisis. For years, they’ve helped Afghan refugees build new lives in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, among other cities in the Washtenaw County area. Now, though, the need is more pressing than ever.

We really felt the need to answer the call,” Eadeh says. “We felt that we could help individuals who are coming from Afghanistan right now have a home here in Washtenaw County.”

Services for All

While operating as a Jewish organization, JFS goes beyond assisting only the Jewish community. “One of the misconceptions about any Jewish organization is that they only serve Jewish individuals,” Eadeh describes, “but we serve everybody in our community.

“It doesn’t matter what anybody’s income status is,” Eadeh continues. “If somebody has a need, we will do our best to meet that need within our services.”

JFS helps refugees like those from Afghanistan from the day they arrive in the U.S. until the day they receive citizenship. Oftentimes, Eadeh explains, the organization, which always picks up refugees directly from the airport, is there waiting at the terminal as late as midnight.

“We initially take them to a hotel,” she says, “or if they have friends or family in the area that are going to host them, we will take them to that home.”

Once an apartment is ready, JFS helps refugees move in. The organization provides furniture, household goods, foods and everything else individuals or families need to initially build a life.

Then, they help refugees enroll in benefits, find ESL classes and identify employment opportunities. A vast suite of services geared specifically for employment also include micro enterprise development programs that help people start small businesses, if desired.

The JFS offices
The JFS offices Austin Thomason

Getting Ready to Help

Since first working with Afghan refugee cases, Eadeh estimates that JFS has helped resettle 166 individuals in the last six years. Now, in working with the national agency, the Washtenaw County organization has committed to assisting upwards of 300 refugees between September 2021 and March 2022.

To prepare for the influx, JFS is in talks with housing partners to increase housing options in the coming months. They’re also in the midst of creating a special language task force to further assist refugees who don’t speak English. In addition, JFS is beefing up their food pantry and building a commercial kitchen at the agency to meet the food needs of new clients and cases.

“One of our other most important efforts is to work with more employers,” Eadeh says, “and increase the employment opportunities for the clients that we serve.”

In being mindful of the COVID-19 pandemic, JFS also helps refugees access and receive vaccines. They provide PPE like masks and offer virtual school options for kids when needed. Despite the health crisis and past lockdowns, JFS did not encounter any lapses in services.

“Our goal is to provide a safe place for people to land that have fled really, really dangerous situations,” Eadeh says. “Part of that mission is to assist individuals and make sure that they have a place to land where they feel safe with opportunities to achieve their dreams and goals.” 

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