Vermonters welcome our new Afghan neighbors

In the Vermont tradition of embracing newcomers, the Green Mountain State is welcoming our new Afghan neighbors. Here in Southern Vermont, the resettlement program is being coordinated through the ECDC Multicultural Community Center in Brattleboro.

Director Joe Wiah explains the center’s mission as helping refugees integrate successfully into the community by engaging the energy, enthusiasm and resources of individuals, service groups, churches, health and educational institutions, businesses and community leaders. Wiah, who left his native Liberia when he was 18, has lived in Vermont for nine years, and praises the state for its welcoming, humanitarian spirit.

“ I’ve never seen the collective commitment to refugee resettlement that I see here,” says Wiah.

The CDC Multicultural Center is working to ensure that Vermonters are ready for our new Afghan neighbors by partnering with local organizations that will provide vital services to refugee families once they arrive.  The Center will also help manage the integration process, so both refugees and locals don’t feel overwhelmed.

“We aren’t just looking to resettle people; we want them to feel welcome here,” says Thomas Huddleston, Co-Sponsorship Manager at ECDC/MCC.  “This means tapping into the energy and caring of the local community because it’s really helpful to have a friend when you move to a new place.”

1 ECDC stands for the Ethiopian Community Development Council, an international non-government organization devoted to assisting refugees and immigrants. Here in the United States, ECDC has been authorized by the Department of State to resettle Afghan refugees. The ECDC Multicultural Center in Brattleboro is an ECDC-affiliated agency.

Why Vermont is welcoming Afghan Refugees

In 2021, after more than 20 years of war and occupation, the United States began evacuating its forces and allies from Afghanistan. Among the evacuees were tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who had assisted the American military, many working as translators and drivers.  Once the Americans left, these Afghan citizens would have become vulnerable targets for retaliation by Taliban militants.  Recognizing this, and in acknowledgment of the Afghans supportive roles, the U.S. government initiated the evacuation of our allies and their families. Many U.S. states stepped up to offer asylum and support for evacuees, including Vermont.

According to Vermont Governor Phil Scott, welcoming Afghan refugees is “the right thing to do.”

“We have a moral obligation to help the people of Afghanistan, who did so much to help us in the War on Terror,” Scott said, adding that  “welcoming more refugees also strengthens communities, schools, our workforce, culture, and economy.”

Scott’s reference to Vermont’s workforce is of special interest to businesses struggling to find employees in a post-pandemic economy. Many Afghan refugees are familiar with American culture through their work with the U.S. military. These refugees are eager to become self-supporting and contributing members of their new communities – and finding good jobs is key to achieving this goal.

“They need everything…”’

Refugees arrive in Vermont with very little, a few suitcases at best. “They need everything,” says Jessica Rose, Case Manager at ECDC/MCC.  “Housing, jobs, clothing, furniture, transportation … they’re basically starting from scratch. Financial support is most flexible because that’s an investment in their future here. But cultural integration and friendships are also critical. The warmth of human connection makes a huge difference when you’re a stranger — just having someone who can listen and give you encouragement.”

How You Can Help Refugees  — Right Now

Starting over in a new country is challenging. At the ECDC Multicultural  Community Center, our goal is to manage the integration and community support processes so that both refugees and locals don’t feel overwhelmed.

Cash donations are urgently needed and you can donate here to MCC Brattleboro.  But there are other ways you can offer support for Afghan families. For instance, are you available to drive someone to the supermarket, doctor’s office, post office, or other destination?   Maybe you have serviceable, clean clothing or furniture that you’re willing to donate.  What about helping with childcare, English language tutoring, or simply taking a family to a concert, ice skating rink or craft fair?

We know many Vermonters are ready and willing to help our new neighbors.  Below are our most critical needs, plus helpful information and guidance for donors.

Can you provide rental housing or a homestay?

Do you have a rental property with empty units?  Or a private living area as part of your home?

If so, and you’re willing to house a new Vermonter, we want to hear from you!

We recognize that housing refugees will be a new experience for most Vermonters, and we are here to assist you at every step.  If you’re a landlord, we’ve created a special Rentals FAQ sheet  which covers the reasons why refugees are excellent renters, as well as best practices and leasing processes.