Catholic Charities: Our commitment to serve Afghan refugees is strong

Wakil Kohsar/AFP/TNS

Over 47 years, Catholic Charities has resettled more than 14,000 refugees from 60 countries into western North Carolina. It is our deep commitment to comfort and serve those we resettle.

In their first 90 days, we provide services to welcome and acclimate refugees to American culture and navigate our complex systems of healthcare, employment, housing, even grocery shopping.

We are privileged to be part of Operation Allies Welcome, the federal effort to resettle 83,000 Afghans. Although the sudden U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan meant our evacuees arrived in less than three months, not six as anticipated, we responded quickly by adding staff, working overtime, and collaborating with volunteers and partners.

Unfortunately, with so little affordable housing available, we were forced for the first time to place our clients in hotels as we search for permanent housing. We use suite-style hotels to help them feel at home, but the temporary nature understandably prolongs an unsettling transitory phase.

The good news is we have placed more than half the evacuees in safe, affordable homes and our efforts continue daily.

Our message to those Afghan evacuees who are frustrated: We hear you. We encourage you to call our program director if you need help. Our staff has gone above and beyond to meet the needs of our 73 families, but whenever we hear about client concerns, we examine all the facts and make needed adjustments.

That said, it is important for Catholic Charities to respond to the Observer’s Jan. 13 article that inaccurately and unfairly portrays the dedicated, high-quality service our staff and volunteers are providing under difficult circumstances to resettle Afghan evacuees.

Our commitment to protecting clients’ privacy means we cannot identify them or offer details on incidents portrayed in the article. However, we maintain detailed records of client interactions, including case notes, doctor’s visits, calls to secure appointments, transportation logs, grocery receipts, housing inspections, and weekly home-visit reports. These records convey a very different picture.

Here is a fuller picture of key areas of our service:

Food – We have robust protocols in place to ensure food security. We greet evacuees on Day One with a hot, culturally appropriate meal, provide cash for immediate needs, and take them grocery shopping the next day. We then schedule regular shopping trips and cover the cost of groceries and necessities with no limits, and our volunteers and partners also deliver food. We check in with clients weekly, so anyone running low on food has only to ask — anytime, any day.

Housing – Before our refugees arrived, we asked for help finding affordable rental housing, and people are responding. One by one, we are placing families in homes that have passed inspections for safety, equipment and general repair. Clients have only to call the landlord if something needs to be addressed, including arranging for specialty care.

Infant care – Supplying infant necessities is a top priority. When we receive requests for baby formula, we deliver it immediately and cover the cost. We give all new moms $150 gift cards, and donors have overwhelmed us with diapers, cribs and car seats.

Healthcare – We educate evacuees about the importance of using 911 if they need urgent medical care, and we respond immediately to all healthcare requests. Our records show staff have taken appropriate steps in responding to each request for needed care.

Communications – The suggestion that clients have one number to call for help and “get no response” is inaccurate. All evacuees have, or are provided, cellphones and mobile contact numbers for three frontline staff, the program director, and the state coordinator. We return emergency calls immediately and others as quickly as possible.

The most important takeaway is that thanks to Catholic Charities’ staff and volunteers, more than 200 souls living in a war zone just over four months ago are now safe, with children enrolled in school and a range of services available as they start new lives in Charlotte. We invite all to join us in this important effort.

Carter is executive director and CEO of Catholic Charities.