About three dozen Afghan refugees are being resettled in Knoxville after fleeing their country after the United States left Afghanistan in late August and the Taliban took control of Kabul.
They began arriving around September 30, with the latest family of five arriving on November 5.
Bridge Refugee Services Inc., which has been helping refugees since 1982, has been appointed to handle the Afghans by the Episcopal Migration Ministries, one of nine U.S. Department of State resettlement offices in the country. Bridge has offices on Whittle Springs Road in Knoxville and in Chattanooga.
“Afghans are considered humanitarian probationers,” said Monica Harris, Bridges’ program and human resources chief. Information on the US State Department’s website says that certain Afghan citizens in danger, who are granted humanitarian probation status, are eligible for the Department’s APA program. This includes $ 2,275 donated to the resettlement agency, of which $ 1,225 is available for critical assistance needs such as housing and basic necessities, including food, clothing and furniture, during the first 30-90 days in the communities. Assistance comes through the Department of Homeland Security’s Refugee Resettlement Office.
Members of two local churches greet Afghans when they arrive by commercial plane at McGhee Tyson Airport, buy food for them and help them move into their homes while they are being prepared.
A local volunteer, Martha Robinson, described the effort “to show God’s love through our actions.”
At the same time, adequate housing is the greatest need for Afghans as they move into the Knoxville community, Harris said.
The two churches that to date have helped the Afghans through local aid teams are the Central Baptist Church of Fountain City and St. John XXIII University Parish. Since many refugees need to learn English, they can benefit from the Center for English, which is sponsored by a third church, West Lonsdale Baptist Church, said Peter Green, Bridge volunteer manager.
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Harris and Green were interviewed on the program on Nov. 5 in a meeting room at Bridge’s offices. The meeting room was filled with new toys and other things for children, especially stacks of paper diapers. Household items donated to the Refugee Agency are stored in a warehouse, they said.
All Afghan nationals came to Knoxville from one of eight “safe havens,” all U.S. military bases, Harris said. The State Department’s explanation of the APA program says Afghans conduct medical screenings and apply for work permits while at the bases, and are then matched with a resettlement agency in communities across the country.
The refugees’ transition to local communities is carried out exclusively by the US administration, and members of Congress do not have a role. The American rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, however, offered a statement to this columnist:
“My office does not have a role to play in the relocation or resettlement of Afghan refugees. But during the chaos of the American withdrawal, we were contacted by several Eastern Tennesseans who served in Afghanistan or who worked with international non-profit organizations and who were concerned. over the well-being of the Afghans who helped support US-led efforts in this country.In many cities, the Taliban went door-to-door for US sympathizers and our team was able to help more of these people evacuate the country, “while fleeing what was truly a life-or-death situation. My team worked long hours to help this urgent situation, and I am proud of their efforts.”
It is unknown if any of the refugees who came to Knoxville were in the group that Burchett’s office helped. Some of those who came have a military relationship with someone who lives here, Harris said. The first to arrive was a person where most of the others came as families.
When the refugees arrive, they first stay in the Airbnbs until other accommodations are found, even though the most recently arrived family had to stay in a hotel with a kitchen because an Airbnb could not be obtained, Harris said.
She said part of Bridge’s job is to search for Airbnbs to accommodate the refugees. The national Airbnb organization has agreed to help with this program and waives its fees, even though “the remaining fees that go to the hosts are the same,” Harris said in an email, as a follow-up to the interview on 5 November.
Robinson attends Central Baptist of Fountain City and teaches at Coulter Grove Intermediate School in Maryville. “When I heard about Bridge Refugee Services’ work locally, I knew this was one way our church family could get involved and make a difference in the lives of those who wanted to make Knoxville their new home,” she said via e -mail.
“When we formed a Community Action Team (CAT) through Bridge Refugee Services, our group was matched with two families. We’ve partnered with them all the way to make their transition to East Tennessee as smooth as possible. From picking them up at the airport upon their arrival to provide welcome meals for them, we have endeavored to be the hands and feet of Christ to serve our neighbors.We have filled their pantry with culturally appropriate items, taken them to the grocery store, secured new clothing appropriately to the weather in East Tennessee, playing football with the kids – all in an attempt to show God’s love through our actions. ”
Robinson said she came to appreciate the needs and struggles of the refugee population as she has a daughter, Elizabeth Robinson Patton, who practices with Rose Immigration Law in Nashville.
“Bridge is doing an incredible job in the East Tennessee area. With the huge influx of refugees, they need volunteers,” Robinson said.
Harris has been with Bridge for seven months, moving here from Dayton, Ohio, where she worked with a refugee resettlement organization that collaborated with the American Conference of Catholic Bishops. She is the daughter of immigrants from Taiwan, and the first in her family to be born in the United States. Green joined Bridge in July, coming from Memphis, where he recently completed a Ph.D. degree in missions and intercultural studies from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
Harris said the agency currently helps 90-100 refugees in total. Between October 1, 2020 and September 30, 2021, Bridge accepted 58 newcomers, not the Afghans. Most of this group are from Congo, she said.
Bridge welcomes additional volunteers to its resettlement program, and anyone who has homes that can be used by Afghans is also encouraged to contact Green via email at [email protected] or leave a message at the office, 865-540- 1311
Harris said the Afghans were not available to be interviewed because they were not ready to meet with the news media at this time.
Georgiana Vines is a retired News Sentinel associate editor. She can be contacted at [email protected]