How the JFCS is creating new lives for refugees in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh – With the violence and chaos erupting in Afghanistan, the country’s citizens are seeking a safe haven. A local organization is helping refugees find homes in Pittsburgh and is currently creating a lifeline for Afghans fleeing violence.

Starting life in a new country, especially after escaping from a threatening country, is certainly a challenge for refugees. According to Global citizen, an organization dedicated to solving global struggles such as poverty, the challenges refugees face once they arrive in a safer country can often be overlooked. Some of the difficulties refugees face after arriving in the United States include difficulty learning English, adjusting to cultural barriers, finding transportation, and securing housing and assistance. a work. Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS) work to help refugees cope with all of these adjustments.

“The Jewish Family and Community Services is a social service organization in Pittsburgh that works to serve the local community by assisting anyone in the community in a variety of areas, from refugee resettlement to senior services to counseling and therapy, job search. “Said Allie Reefer, public relations specialist for JFCS,” We try to help the most vulnerable and help the community meet its challenges. “

JFCS has been helping fleeing families since before the crisis in Afghanistan made headlines; however, they expect to provide assistance to others in the near future. The organization has currently assisted three Afghan families and is awaiting the arrival of two more.

“We don’t really have an official date for their trip, just because of the changing nature of everything, but we are working with the other relocation agency in Pittsburgh, which is AJAPO [Acculturation for Justice, Access and Peace Outreach], and several other local organizations to try to prepare for what could be a potentially very large influx of arrivals, ”Reefer said. “We want to make sure that whether we have five families or 100 families, we’re ready. “

The organization has set up three different committees to help refugee families. One committee is focused on finding affordable housing for incoming people and another is dedicated to collecting donations of groceries, hot meals and clothing. The third committee is seeking the support of volunteers to help raise more donations, shop for groceries and work directly with families.

“In an ideal situation… we’ll find them a house to rent, we go shopping for them, make a housing setup with all the furniture and essentials, then get a hot meal, usually from someone else in the house. the community, ”Refrigerator said. “We will have a hot meal prepared for them by one of the other Afghan families so that they have something delicious and nutritious and from their country of origin to eat when they arrive. “

Once preparations are complete, JFCS members will intercept families upon arrival at the airport. From there, the work continues.

“Our staff members pick them up from the airport and take them home,” Reefer said. “From there they connect [the families] everything they need, from medical care and education to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes if they need it, and employment support so they can find work.

There are several ways for refugees to get in touch with JFCS. One option is for people trying to leave their country to obtain a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). SIV candidates are then put in touch with the national branch of the JFCS, HIAS. After reaching HIAS, families are assigned to various housing organizations around the country. Families can then choose their place of residence from a selection of cities. Reefer says there are several different reasons families are considering relocating to Pittsburgh.

“A lot of times it’s because of family members who live here or friends who live here telling them about their experience living here,” Reefer said. “Although the family element or the friend element is a very important factor, sometimes there are other reasons, such as if they’ve heard good things about life in Pittsburgh or it’s easy to find a job here. “

Reefer has listed the various factories in the area, Amazon’s processing center, and several hotels as areas often willing to help refugees find jobs. While work and family are very important deciding factors in knowing where to live, Pittsburgh is sometimes selected for more humane reasons.

“My colleague who decided to come here, when he saw the presentation, they [JFCS] the current [Pittsburgh] like a very family-friendly town and said there were four seasons, ”Reefer said. “In Afghanistan, there were four seasons, so he really liked it in Pittsburgh.”

While this SIV process may work for some families, it does not work for all, especially with the increase in violence in Afghanistan. The SIV process can sometimes take up to two years, time that people at risk may not have. However, a faster solution exists for those who find themselves in dire or extremely deadly situations.

“There is a new parole status that they have established, which is for people who have a direct threat, but do not have SIV status,” Reefer said.

In other dramatic cases, many Afghan refugees try to travel to countries where they can enroll in other resettlement programs through the The United Nations (UN).

“Thousands, if not millions, of people are fleeing at the same time, and they are fleeing to certain countries in the region or surroundings like the region where they originally lived. They connect with the UN, which starts the whole resettlement process for them, ”Reefer said. “Once this situation starts to happen, if you get away from the country, you know pretty much exactly what you need to do. “

Despite the hard work that comes from both sides, there are some who will ignite with anger that foreigners in need of assistance find refuge in their countries of origin. According to Reefer, this kind of hatred is not common in Pittsburgh, but it’s still something the organization sometimes has to put out.

“Fortunately, in Pittsburgh, most of the people here are quite welcoming, especially in the immediate city and where many of our refugees live. So we’ve had some really good experiences with the people of Pittsburgh, ”said Reefer. “When we come across some of these questions, concerns or misunderstandings about refugees, we really try to educate people about the truth, about the vibrancy that having refugees and immigrants in our city brings to the city. and how Pittsburgh really is a city of immigrants. It was made up of immigrants… European immigrants, but still immigrants from all over Europe… who really made the steel industry thrive here when it was right, and you know, since then we’ve been welcoming .

The sense of community that Reefer brings out in Pittsburgh is still sought after by organizations like JFCS, and to get through the struggles in Afghanistan, Reefer believes it will take a lot of support and continued love from the community.

“We obviously get [a] kind of slow net of families [from Afghanistan], and it’s been so hard on the other side of things, to get out of Afghanistan and do all the legal procedures and stuff like that, ”Reefer said. “We need owners who are willing to work with us. We need volunteer lawyers ready to work with us to help Afghans either by applying for their green card if they have not yet started this process, or by applying for their SIV status if they are eligible for the family reunification process. . [We need] The people of Pittsburgh in general who are ready to be a part of welcoming these arriving people, not just right now when it’s like the big news in the news, but also for months to come, because, like I said, we anticipate that this is going to happen for a while.

To learn more about or to support JFCS, click here.

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