A new model of refugee support built for Afghans is adapting to support Ukrainians

DURHAM, New Hampshire, August 15 (Reuters) – As of July, Dmitry Vorobiova, 39, his partner Olena, 36, and their dog have been living with 64-year-old Michael Glover, a software engineer who had extra space in his six- bedroom house after the death of his wife.

Strangers before, Glover and the Ukrainian couple have established a quiet routine together in the three-story home in their small eastern New Hampshire town: Dmitry and Glover go for an evening jog and the two Glovers occasionally cook grilled chicken for dinner.

Glover’s home — now a safe haven for the couple who fled their home in Kharkiv, Ukraine — is part of a local “sponsorship circle,” a program launched last year to help evacuated Afghans following the US military’s chaotic withdrawal recently expanded to help Ukrainians flee the Russian invasion of their country.

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The program, created by a coalition of nonprofit organizations in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, enables any group of five or more single adults to assist in the temporary resettlement of a refugee in the United States, a task traditionally undertaken by a handful of well-established resettlement agencies.

The effort is still small. Sponsorship circles like the one Glover is part of have so far supported the arrival of about 600 Afghans and just 20 Ukrainians, according to Sarah Krause, director of the Community Sponsorship Hub in New York City, which leads the national initiative. Another Hub employee said another 40 Ukrainians are currently being processed to receive assistance.

Democratic US President Joe Biden’s administration wants to involve local communities in helping refugees after former President Donald Trump’s previous Republican administration cut refugee intake to the lowest level in modern history and shut down a third of resettlement agencies . Continue reading

The State Department plans to launch a new private sponsorship program later this year that would allow US-based groups to identify, match and support individual refugees abroad who want to come to the United States. The initiative would reshape how refugees are resettled in the United States, said Elizabeth Foydel, director of private sponsorships at the New York-based International Refugee Assistance Project.

The government’s pilot program “will incorporate lessons learned from the emergency initiatives” that responded to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine, a State Department spokesman said in a statement. The goal is for private sponsorships to become “a fundamental part of the resettlement of US refugees,” the statement said.

Glover, whose group was part of the early relief efforts, sees sheltering refugees as a way for him to honor the memory of his late wife. “Carol gave a lot in her life,” he said of her. “I’ve been very successful at what I do and at some point you wonder what we’re giving back.”

100 CHURCHES

More than 10.4 million Ukrainians have fled since the conflict, which Russia is describing as a “special military operation,” began on February 24. Citizens can voluntarily sponsor individual Ukrainians, a US Department of Homeland Security spokesman said.

Dmitry and Olena fled their home with their 10-year-old fox terrier, Jagger – named after Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger – in February after hearing rumors of Russia’s military rise, and are reunited for the first time with a family in Russian-controlled Crimea. They didn’t feel safe there, so they went to Istanbul.

As the war in Ukraine escalated, they turned their attention to the United States.

The couple didn’t know anyone in the country, so Olena, a dental technician, and Dmitry, a software tester at an IT company, searched the internet for US churches, thinking they were likely to be supporters of those in need.

After emailing more than 100 churches, they were referred to Glover’s circle of sponsors, which had formed months earlier to support Afghan refugees.

MORE HELP THAN THE GOVERNMENT

The Community Sponsorship Hub requires sponsorship circles to undergo background checks, receive training, create a three-month support plan and put up a minimum of $2,275 for each person they host, the State Department said.

But the circles are less regulated than well-established resettlement agencies, which often have more resources, said Chloe Shiras, program manager of one such agency, HIAS, officially known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which oversees Glover’s sponsorship circle.

The circle Glover is part of was formed last year to help one of the tens of thousands of Afghan families who are being quickly relocated.

A family of nine who were evacuated to a US military base after the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital said the group’s support was essential.

“They helped us more than the government,” said Mariam Walizada, 35, who fled Kabul with her five children, a nephew and husband Mohammad, who had worked as a security agent for the Afghan president.

The circle of sponsors found a home in the nearby town of Epping, New Hampshire, paid ten months’ rent, gave Mohammad driving and car lessons, got him a job at a local hospital, took the kids to school, paid their attorney, and helped them apply for Benefits such as cash benefits and Medicaid. And the circle of sponsors helped welcome the newest addition to the family when the Walizadas welcomed a baby daughter just over a month ago.

Both the Walizadas and the Vorobiovas have found ways to overcome the challenges of starting over.

In July, the Walizadas invited Dmitry and Olena and other members of the local circle of sponsors to a party in their backyard to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

There, Mariam served up a colorful platter of traditional Afghan food — beef skewers, naan bread, rice and an assortment of fruit — and everyone gathered to share the meal.

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Reporting by Sofia Ahmed in Durham, New Hampshire; Edited by Mica Rosenberg

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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