How people can help arriving Afghani refugees relocating to San Diego

KEARNY MESA (KUSI) – As the world watches the chaos unfold in Afghanistan, San Diego nonprofits are racing to prepare for an influx of refugees already arriving to our area. As of August 23, the local chapter of the International Rescue Committee said they have taken in 33 people with more expected in the coming days. In addition, Jewish Family Services San Diego has welcomed 17 families totaling 74 individuals. While the State Department is expecting to evacuate 20,000+ Afghan refugees to the United States, it remains unclear how many will end up here in San Diego. 

“Obviously now with evacuations ramping up, it’s more time-critical now that the U.S. help to get anyone who worked alongside our military over the last 20 years, to get out safely,” said IRC Executive Director Donna Duvin. “It has been quite chaotic, but the good news is we are seeing some families getting through to the US from the emergency evacuation program and other avenues.” 

Duvin said right now the most critical need is to find housing for incoming families who will relocate to the area. Traditionally, the IRC and other refugee resettlement agencies would have weeks to prepare, Duvin said that timeline has been condensed to 24-48 hour’s notice.

“Sometimes we know a family is coming and we don’t have time to secure that longer term housing for them. Right now we are looking at what are the other alternatives that can safely house individuals?” Duvin said. “One of the partners we’re working closely with is Airbnb. Hosts can offer discounted rates to let us temporarily house, but the new program they have created is called ‘open homes.’”

Open Homes hosted by Airbnb is a partnership between the company and the IRC to help find emergency temporary housing for those fleeing Afghanistan. Learn more about the program here: https://www.rescue.org/volunteer/airbnb-open-homes-host 

“Open homes, which is unique, private families who may have an extra home or two spare rooms, who may be able to help temporarily house someone or a family coming in until we can find a permanent home,” Duvin said. “For any of the programs bringing special immigrant visa holders or refugee families into the U.S., there is a safety vetting that happens overseas.”

The process is streamlined but Duvin said these specific visa holders are known to have been working with U.S. military and extensive screening has been completed. Airbnb will be tasked with securely vetting homes to ensure the safety of those being relocated.

In addition to opening your home as a place of refuge for emergency temporary housing, IRC has a number of other needs and donations they are collecting that include gift cards; furniture (sofas, dining tables, chairs), beds and mattresses, and kitchen items for new home setups; transportation such as metro/bus passes or rideshare (Uber/Lyft) credits; grocery and hygiene items; and baby items.

To learn more about how you can help IRC efforts to relocate families visit: https://www.rescue.org/volunteer 

Jewish Family Services is prioritizing the same need for permanent housing as other nonprofits. They said they are working with landlords and other volunteers to ensure every person relocated to San Diego has the resources they need to be successful. JFS Chief of Staff, Chris Olsen, said officials organizing relocation efforts will look to place people in communities they may have prior connections to.

“Arrivals coming into the country now have been arriving to military bases across the country, and that’s where State Department coordinates with us about who will be arriving in San Diego,” Olsen said. “It’s important to note folks are generally matched in the country with communities where they’re going to have success, where there are existing connections through family, where in the best-case scenario people are able to reunite with their loved ones.”

Olsen said that the needs from JFS staff are rapidly changing when it comes to how the community can help. They are updating not only their website but also social media pages for the best ways to connect people to donation needs and volunteer opportunities.

Ways to support JFS Afghan refugees: https://www.jfssd.org/afghan-evacuation/ 

Follow JFS of San Diego on social media for more: https://twitter.com/JFSSD 

The work being done by nonprofit organizations across San Diego is a personal mission for many. JFS currently has refugee resettlement workers helping to relocate people who fled the same danger and violence that they escaped from.

“I think the passion for the work is evident in the people we have on the refugee services team, several of our staff members at JFS are former refugee clients themselves,” Olsen said. “In addition to all the challenges they’ve overcome, they want to give back.”

KUSI’s Hunter Sowards was live in Kearny Mesa Monday night with more on how the community can help fleeing Afghans.

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