Madison refugee resettlement agency says preparations underway as Afghans arrive in Wisconsin

Afghans started arriving at Fort McCoy Sunday, though Jewish Social Services does not know when their help will be needed.
Published: Aug. 22, 2021 at 11:31 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Evacuation efforts in Afghanistan are bringing refugees to Wisconsin. Officials at Fort McCoy confirmed Sunday, Afghan refugees are flying to Volk Field in Camp Douglas and then being transported to Fort McCoy. Arrivals are expected to continue into the coming days.

Jewish Social Services is the only refugee resettlement agency in the Madison area. They are expecting to help settle Afghan refugees, but executive director Dawn Berney said they still do not know when or how many.

Berney explained JSS’ national partner Hias will be the one to tell them if refugees are coming to Madison. That information comes from the U.S. State Department.

“Information is coming so quickly, we are hearing about Fort McCoy potentially before even the nationals are hearing about it,” Berney said.

This is not the first time JSS has helped resettle refugees from Afghanistan. Since 2017, Berney said they have resettled 61 people, including 14 in the last three months. However, with the new influx of people, timing could be a challenge.

JSS typically has a week to 10 days to decide whether a case is a good fit and to get everything ready for a family, but Berney said they could now have as little as 24 hours notice. With that tight turnaround, JSS is already making preparations.

“We’re reaching out to potential landlords, we’re reaching out to hotel managers to say: this is what we expect to happen, we don’t know when it’s going to happen, we don’t know for how long it’s going to be happening for, but as our partner, we would like you to know about it,” Berney explained. She added JSS is also reaching out to other community partners.

Once refugees arrive, JSS is responsible for finding and furnishing housing for families, stocking food and helping with a number of other services including health care, jobs and school.

“All of the things that people need to do so that they can become part of the fabric of our community,” Berney described.

Berney also noted many refugee families from Afghanistan are large, making housing a bigger challenge. Add to that the quick turnaround and Berney said they may have to use extended stay hotels while searching for more permanent housing.

Berney added that JSS has already seen an outpouring of support and people asking how they can help. Right now, she explained the best thing to do is make a financial donation to JSS, so they can use the money where it is needed most.

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