Utica prepares to receive Afghan evacuees

As 54,000 Afghan evacuees undergo processing at eight military bases across the U.S., the Center, in Utica, prepares to receive and resettle around 20 of them.

Posted: Sep 16, 2021 5:52 PM
Updated: Sep 16, 2021 6:27 PM

UTICA, N.Y. -- As 54,000 Afghan evacuees undergo processing at eight military bases across the U.S., the Center, in Utica, prepares to receive and resettle around 20 of them.

"Our capacity this year was 110 refugees; we got 37, so we do have the capacity to do more," says Shelly Callahan, Executive Director of the Center- formerly the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees.

The challenge: they don't know exactly how many are coming, or when. Governor Kathy Hochul on Thursday said 20 evacuees would be coming to Utica. Officials at the Center say that number will likely grow. And they could have three weeks notice, or, they could have three days. And the Center gets $1200 from the federal government's Refugee Resettlement Program per evacuee, and they must find and furnish an apartment with that modest sum.

"So obviously if you're a single case and you come here and that's all the money, the agency takes a hit. We go in the hole on 1 and 2 person cases, because it's impossible to get everything that someone would need with that amount of money," says Callahan.

One thing Callahan expects the evacuees will arrive with, is a hearty work ethic.

"They are work eligible so they'll be very much like refugee populations we've dealt with before and vaccinations are mandatory for this group, so they will be vaccinated against Covid and everything else," says Callahan. "All the folks that we deal with are highly motivated to get a job to start building their American dream."

Among those standing at the ready to help them achieve that dream: Utica College.

"Once we knew that some Afghan refugees were going to be coming here, we knew that as a college with the history that we have, we had to step up and do something," says Senior Associate Provost, Robert Halliday.

UC is home to students from 17 different countries. They look forward to collecting donations for the evacuees, and working with the Center to determine what they need.

"Our troops have been overseas supporting these people for two decades. Some of them are here now. It's our turn to step up and do our part," says Halliday.

Callahan and staff assembled a packet for the evacuees, showing them some of the features of what could become their new home. She was proud to include the designation given to Utica by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees a decade and a half ago: "the Town that Loves Refugees". From the reaction Callahan has been getting, that still holds true.

"We have had so many people reach out to us, phone calls, emails, foks on the street that I see out at the market. Employers, do you need any help? Are you getting Afghan evacuees? Is there anything that we can do? Do you need a place for folks to stay? Really remarkable."

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