For the Record: How to help Afghan refugees as they head to Wisconsin

Wisconsin is expecting ‘hundreds to thousands’ of Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy in the coming weeks, after the Department of Defense announced it was one of three military installations authorized to accept up to 22,000 refugees in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The Jewish Social Services in Madison is one of several resettlement agencies that works with refugees in Wisconsin, and has settled a number of Afghan refugees in recent months. While not all of them are expected to permanently resettle in Wisconsin, it’s likely at least some will, given the Madison area already having a sizable Afghan population.

Dawn Berney, executive director of JSS, joined Naomi Kowles on For the Record this Sunday with more on how to help in the days to come, as well as a typical timeline of how the agency resettles families as they come in.

Donations will be a key for them going forward, as Berney says the agency receives only about $1,000 a person for help in resettling. That doesn’t come close to filling the gap of what they provide when resettling: Four months rent plus security deposit, as well as initial hotel stays, apartment furnishings, food, and other basic necessities.

Berney also explained how the rushed evacuation could mean longer stays at Fort McCoy for refugees going forward, as paperwork for Special Immigrant Visas may not have been completed for those fleeing the country. Afghans and their families who helped the U.S. military or worked for other parts of the U.S. government in Afghanistan are eligible for SIVs, a type of visa available since 2009 but has come under fire for the backlogs and complications involved in obtaining one.

According to state data, just over 313 Afghan refugees have resettled in Wisconsin from 2001-2019, with that number escalating in 2016 even while overall refugee numbers dropped. A third of those refugees have settled in Dane County.

Zphfk Afghan Refugees To Wisconsin 2001 2019

Afghan refugees resettling in Wisconsin from 2001-2019. Source: Department of Children and Families