Michigan sets up hub for volunteers to sign up, donate to Afghan resettlement effort

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

With Afghans starting to resettle in Michigan, the state has set up a website for people to volunteer or donate to the effort. 

Michigan is slated to receive up to 1,300 Afghan nationals in the coming months, with 13 already having arrived in the state and travel scheduled for another 191, according to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

Marcy Barakzai, center, gives a hug to her nieces, Mariam Barakzai, right, and Marjan Barakzai upon arrival, after they were evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va., on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

The Whitmer administration said it's calling on volunteers to sign up or donate items to the initiative at Michigan.gov/afghanarrivals. Volunteers will need to go through a background check by the Michigan State Police, but they will not have to pay for the screening, said Ebony Stith, spokeswoman for the state Labor Department.

“We urge everyone to join us in welcoming these Afghan families to Michigan and ensuring they have the resources they need to succeed,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.

“We will continue to embrace our duty to honor and protect these families as they flee from violence and political persecution. Especially given the recent treatment of Haitians at our border, we also urge humane treatment of all immigrants arriving to the U.S., regardless of their origin.”

More:Up to 1,300 Afghans to be resettled in Michigan in coming months, state says

The initiative is being coordinated by the Office of Global Michigan within the Labor Department, which secured $500,000 in funding from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to temporarily house the Afghan arrivals until resettlement agencies can set up permanent housing for them.

Afghans arriving in the state are assigned to work with one of five resettlement agencies, each of which has experience working with refugees and helping them transition into their new communities by connecting them with services, English lessons and job training.

State officials said there are volunteer opportunities for individuals, families, community teams, nonprofits and corporate groups, and are directing those interested to register by filling out a survey to describe the skills and donations they can offer.

Michigan residents may volunteer in person or remotely and can donate a variety of goods and services, including money.

Detroit-based Samaritas has said it expects to help resettle 350 Afghans in the coming months, and Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County has agreed to help up to 300 Afghans.

St. Vincent's Catholic Charities Refugee Services, based in Lansing, has said it will be receiving 300 Afghans, and the Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian Services said it's planning to help resettle 250 Afghan allies and refugees in the near future.

The White House has said it expected as many as 65,000 vulnerable Afghans to arrive in the U.S. by the end of September and another 30,000 over the next 12 months following a massive U.S.-coordinated airlift after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August.

Afghan refugees are processed at Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village where they are being housed, in New Mexico, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Biden administration provided the first public look inside the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Many Afghans who were evacuated as part of the airlift are housed on U.S. installations in other countries, where they’re undergoing biometric and biographic security screenings before they flow to the United States, officials said.

Once in the U.S., they undergo COVID-19 testing and are sent to one of several military bases for full medical screenings and to be connected with one of several resettlement agencies.

The administration has asked Congress to pass a law to ensure the Afghans receive benefits similar to those available to other refugees coming to the U.S. and include assistance with housing and basic necessities, job training, English-language training and medical treatment.

The legal status of many of the Afghans will be "humanitarian parole," which was a designation chosen so that the U.S. government could quickly evacuate mass numbers of people during a crisis.

mburke@detroitnews.com