With MacDill Air Force Base in our backyard, it makes sense that many of the Afghan refugees that helped the U.S. military might choose Tampa as their new home.
Over the past week at Kabul's international airport, the images we've seen on television and online are horrific and terrifying. A lucky few were able to get out of Afghanistan before the chaos.
"We have already started to resettle folks from Afghanistan," Sylvia Acevedo, Senior Director Refugee & Employment Services for Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, said. "To date, we have six individuals, and we have another four coming next week, so in total, ten, but we don't know what the numbers will be because the way the special immigrant visa works, they can go wherever. They actually don't have to approach a resettlement agency."
Acevedo said most of the refugees from Afghanistan were interpreters or drivers helping the U.S. military.
"We anticipate that we'll be busier, but we are set at a maximum capacity, and we don't go beyond that number," Acevedo said. "We were set for a hundred this fiscal year, a hundred individuals. We've only resettled 36 individuals, and that's because of COVID. We had a whole year of borders being closed because of the pandemic."
Acevedo says getting refugees out, goes through the State Department, and the vetting process is highly complex. But, once verified, she says they can see who is coming.
"We have a database we get the cases through notification and communique, and we get to see the profile before they get here what are some of the challenges they might have or some of the strength that they possess like educational background or jobs they've held," Acevedo said. So we start, even before we've ever met them, thinking, oh I can get them this type of job, this type of housing we need to get this type of service for this person they have this going on."
Tampa City Council Member Luis Viera (District 7) introduced a resolution supporting the refugees coming to Tampa.
"My belief is there so many of these individuals who are fleeing terror, and again many who helped us out in our purpose should be given a home," Viera said. "When it comes to this resolution, what it essentially does is two things; number one, it puts city council on the record of saying that we are a welcoming community whenever it comes to these Afghanistan refugees, including those who helped our troops out overseas. Number two, it would ask the city to work with the county and other stakeholders that's religious organizations secular organizations charities, etc. in making this a welcoming community for Afghan refugees."
Acevedo said she has been fielding emails from people across the Bay Area asking how they can help.
"We do have a pretty amazing community wanting to step in and support and help," Acevedo said.
For more information on how you can help, click here.