BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Afghan refugees who fled the Taliban are being resettled in Maryland. Many of these families stay in hotels near the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
While waiting for permanent accommodation, some refugees have been living in hotel rooms since October. According to the executive director of the International Rescue Committee of Baltimore, Ruben Chandrasekar, a housing shortage coupled with the influx of refugees is partly to blame for the prolonged stay in temporary accommodation, “more than three months”.
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In a phone conversation with WJZ reporter Cristina Mendez on Monday, Chandrasekar confirmed that in the first three months of fiscal 2022, 400 refugees were resettled in the Baltimore area, 360 from Afghanistan. This compared to the previous year, when around 200 people were resettled in total.
Chandrasekar said IRC staff had also doubled over the past three months in response to the unprecedented number of refugees resettling in the area.
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According to the US State Department, the evacuation event as a whole was the highest number of new arrivals at any one time in more than 50 years.
When permanent accommodation is secured by the IRC, Chandrasekar said families are then notified. If a family refuses accommodation offered by the IRC, the executive director said each refugee will receive their federally funded “welcome money” of $1,025 plus any other compensation due, which is typically used for a deposit in an apartment or accommodation of their choice.
After some refugees recently turned down accommodations available through IRC due to security concerns, lack of halal markets and mosques within walking distance, people have reported notifications from social workers that their hotel stay would end in a few days.
This, and other concerns centering on people’s inability to reach social workers for periods of time, receive documentation and health care, has drawn the attention of community volunteers, nonprofit organizations nonprofit and a civil rights organization to hold a press conference on Wednesday.
CAIR Maryland’s Zainab Chaudry demanded that state and federal leaders impose a moratorium on hotel evictions and bring in more advocates who can help families.
The IRC has previously said its organization uses its own volunteers, as well as those from other nonprofits and congregations, including Lutheran Social Services and Luminous.
WJZ contacted IRC to confirm how long a family can stay in a hotel room after declining an offer of accommodation via IRC, but did not immediately receive a response. In an email to volunteers and advocates following the 6 p.m. story on WJZ, an IRC representative said “none of our guests have been kicked out of hotels.”
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IRC confirms that approximately 20 apartments will be available over the next 4 weeks on a rolling basis. Due to confidentiality, safety and security agreements for clients, the locations of accommodation options are not disclosed.
While many families are waiting for permanent accommodation, some are looking for their documents and benefits.
According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there is no general delay in issuing employment authorization documents (EADs) to Afghan refugees who have traveled to the United States in the part of Operation Allies Welcome.
“We issue the majority of EAD cards for Afghan parolees who have been processed in the shelters within a month. For those filing outside of shelters, EAD processing should take less than two months,” said USCIS spokeswoman Sharon Scheidhauer.
America has taken in more than 76,000 Afghans in the operation, according to USCIS.
Since January 18and, USCIS adjudicated employment authorization applications for more than 70,000 Afghan evacuees who traveled to safe havens for processing after arriving in the United States,” Scheidhauer said. “USCIS produced and sent nearly 69,000 employment authorization documents.”
The IRC explained that it takes about 4 weeks for the SNAP and TANIF cards to be activated, and about 8 weeks for the medical insurance to be available after the documents have been processed. Medical screening of refugees through Baltimore’s medical system is delayed, according to public relations director Lindsay Hebert.
“Our goal is to complete each refugee health screening within 30 days of receiving a referral, and our average wait time is typically two weeks,” Hebert said. “But following the large-scale Afghan evacuation, the number of refugee medical screening requests we received between October and December 2021 increased by 164% compared to the previous quarter. With this sudden influx, combined with the tremendous pressure that the current COVID-19 outbreak has placed on our staff, it is currently taking up to two months to schedule these appointments.
For those without health insurance, the IRC said emergency departments and urgent care centers are being used for those in need.
According to the Maryland Department of Social Services, Afghan families in this situation have not yet been officially placed in the state by the federal government.
“The International Rescue Committee, through a cooperative agreement it has with the US State Department, is responsible for all refugees and asylum seekers during the initial period of resettlement. State-administered services begin only after a refugee or asylum seeker has been officially (federally) placed in that state.
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After the initial resettlement period, the Maryland Office of Refugees and Asylees (MORA) acts as a continuation service. Once officially placed in the state, the program will provide support and services to refugees to “facilitate their integration into American society.”