Wisconsin Catholic Charities agencies coordinate aid for Afghan arrivals at Fort McCoy

Officials request assistance from local community

MADISON — As U.S. military troops prepare to depart Afghanistan on Aug. 31, officials have helped thousands of Afghan refugees, including those who have worked alongside U.S. military, flee danger.

Many Afghan families have been transported to Fort McCoy, located in the Diocese of La Crosse, and an assortment of international, national and local partners are on hand to assist with care and processing, including the state’s Catholic Charities agencies.

Afghan refugees make their way to a bus taking them to a processing center upon arrival at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., Aug. 24, 2021. Catholic Charities agencies in Wisconsin are coordinating assistance to Afghan refugees arriving at Fort McCoy in the Diocese of La Crosse. (CNS photo | Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

“When we learned families would be coming to Fort McCoy, which is located within our diocese, we knew we could help,” said Karen Becker, development director for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse. “We immediately went into action collecting donations. Most of our help is focused on providing basic care and comfort to those who will be living at the base for the weeks and months to come.”

All five Wisconsin Catholic Charities agencies are collaborating with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services (MRS). The USCCB will address legal, morale, and wellness concerns on base, as well as the immediate basic needs of Fort McCoy’s newest residents.

Afghan families in Wisconsin temporarily

Many people have reached out to Catholic Charities agencies with offers of help. “We are already receiving calls with offers of housing and employment,” said Ricardo Cisneros, chief operating officer of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “What many don’t realize is that very few arriving at Fort McCoy will remain in Wisconsin permanently.”

After security vetting, health checks and transit to the United States, there remains a legal process that Afghan refugees or visa applicants must complete before permanently relocating within the country. The families at Fort McCoy will remain there as they complete this process, but most will go to places where they can join other family members or an existing Afghan community.

As part of their current remote placement program, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay is one of the agencies that may be called on to assist with local resettlement.

Personal care items and donations

Afghan arrivals are housed in the base’s barracks and meals are provided by the U.S. military. Beyond food and shelter, there are a number of personal care and clothing items needed. New items, such as child and adult diapers, wipes, masks, sweatpants, socks, rain ponchos and infant bodysuits (onesies) and sleepers are all needed.

On its Afghanistan Refugee Assistance website, cclse.org/Afghanistan-refugee-assistance, La Crosse Catholic Charities has created online gift registries through Amazon Smile and Target, where donors can purchase needed items and have them shipped directly to the agency.

Monetary donations are also needed, but Catholic Charities leadership stresses the importance of making “unrestricted” donations that allow agencies to purchase items as needs arise or meet operational costs, like transporting care items, staff and volunteers to Fort McCoy.

To make an unrestricted donation, officials said to not include language such as “for refugee resettlement” with a monetary gift. “Such donations could be viewed as being restricted to relocation efforts, which have yet to begin at Fort McCoy,” said Becker.

Volunteers needed

Chris Hennemeyer, USCCB MRS consultant, said that Catholic partners will soon begin programs to provide legal assistance and operate child-friendly spaces on the base. There will also be social and wellness activities for Afghan women. Those with legal, social work, counseling, education and immigration or refugee experience are encouraged to volunteer.

Volunteers will need to go through security and background checks, as well as comply with COVID-19 mitigation measures, including vaccination. Catholic Charities agencies are asking volunteers to make at least a one or two-week commitment. interested individuals can sign up to volunteer at the Green Bay Catholic Charities website,  catholiccharitiesgb.org/afghan-assistance.

Donors are encouraged to check local Catholic Charities websites often to receive updates on emerging refugee needs.