When Zaib Jamili walked out of security screening at John Glenn Columbus International Airport on Thursday evening with his wife and 1-year-old baby, relocation staff immediately spotted them.
Jamili, 21, was holding a white plastic bag with the letters “OIM” printed on it. It stands for the International Organization for Migration – the United Nations agency that organizes the trips of refugees.
The bag made it easy for social workers to recognize refugees and contained important documents that would give them new life in the United States.
Afghan nationals arrive in Columbus after US military withdrawal in August
Jamili was one of the first Afghan nationals to arrive in Columbus after the US military withdrawal in August. The first person arrived on September 24, according to Angie Plummer, executive director of a local resettlement agency called Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS).
On Thursday, Jamili’s family and another family of four arrived in the town. About 340 more will travel to Columbus over the next six months, according to local relocation agencies.
They are part of the first group of nearly 37,000 Afghan evacuees who are now traveling to cities across the United States as part of the State Department’s Afghan Placement and Assistance program. Many are still awaiting their next steps at military bases in the United States
Jamili said he evacuated Kabul with the US military in August and spent more than a month at the Fort Lee military base in Virginia before his flight on Thursday.
The State Department’s agenda has been scrambled with heightened urgency, according to Jhuma Acharya, a social worker at CRIS who is responsible for resettling Jamili’s family. Agencies are usually given a week’s notice before a new refugee shows up, but Acharya did not receive Jamili’s travel itinerary until the day of his flight.
Jamshid Jalili, Jamil’s uncle who lives in Dublin, came to the airport with his wife and four children to pick up the new arrivals. They greeted each other with big smiles and hugged their children as soon as they met.
Jalili arrived in the United States from Afghanistan as a refugee six years ago after the Taliban threatened to kill him because of his work as an interpreter for the US government. His father, who is now waiting at Fort Lee, is expected to join him in the near future, he said.
“I was very worried for my family when it all happened in August,” said Jalili, 34. “I’m just happy Jamili is here and they’re safe.”
Evacuees entering the United States on humanitarian parole
Afghan families are in the United States through humanitarian parole, a process that allows immigrants under exceptional circumstances to enter the country without a visa. Because they are not categorized as refugees, Acharya said he was concerned that parolees would not receive the full range of benefits and services to which refugees are entitled.
On Thursday, however, he was informed by the national partner of CRIS that Afghan parolees are now eligible for public benefits, Medicaid and resettlement services such as matching them with employment opportunities.
“Today we got the good news that they are now eligible for public benefits. I was so happy that I screamed in the car, ”Acharya said. “At least now they have these safety nets and can be better supported.”
Jamili’s family will stay with loved ones in Dublin until CRIS helps them develop a long-term housing plan. Ahead of them, three months of federally funded resettlement programs aim to help them adjust to their lives in the Greater Columbus area.
Local agencies are required to have two meetings with the refugees, but Acharya said CRIS employees typically speak to newcomers at least 10 times to introduce them to their new neighborhood, help them with paperwork and help them with the employment, housing, schooling for their children. and more.
“I will make my first home visit with Jamili tomorrow and see them at least two or three times over the next two months,” Acharya said. “Our other staff will also call them for cultural orientation and other things.
“It’s a very long process,” he said. “But we want to make sure they get everything they need from us.”
Yilun Cheng is a member of the Report for America corps and covers immigration issues for the Dispatch. Your matching donation to our RFA grant helps keep writing stories like this one. Consider making a tax-deductible donation to https://bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.