Sen. Duckworth issues plea to help Afghan refugees: ‘If you can help, please help’

More than 800 Afghans are expected to make Illinois their home in the coming months, said U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

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U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth encourages Chicago residents to help Afghans who will be resettling in the area after fleeing Afghanistan. More than 800 Afghans are expected to call Illinois their new home in the coming months, she said.

Elvia Malagón/Sun-Times

Weeks after the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth is encouraging Chicago residents to step up and help Afghans who will be resettling in the area in the coming months.

The social service agencies assisting Afghans in Chicago need help finding permanent housing, jobs, furniture and household items, she said during a news conference Friday at Heartland Alliance’s Ravenswood office. In coming months, 830 Afghans are expected to find a home in Illinois, Duckworth said.

“If you can help, please help,” Duckworth said, stressing Americans need to keep their promise of helping Afghans after years of war.

Duckworth’s plea comes as organizations working directly with refugees in Chicago have been preparing for an influx of Afghans fleeing political changes. The resettlement organizations had previously said they expected more than 500 Afghans to resettle in the Chicago area.

Military officials recently told reporters they expect about 14,000 people who had fled Afghanistan and were in Europe or the Middle East pending vaccinations to start arriving next week in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.

“As a mom, I can’t imagine having to pick up my two little babies — my 3-year-old and my 6-year-old — in my arms and race into danger to try to get on a flight out of a country that was shutting down,” Duckworth said. “I can’t even comprehend the fear and worry that must come from having to rip my children away from the only home that they’ve known in favor of a far away nation in order to get to safety.”

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Lea Tienou-Gustafson, the director of refugee and immigrant community services for Heartland Alliance, said the resettlement agency has helped 35 Afghans make Chicago their new home since August. The agency expects to resettle 200 to 300 Afghans in the coming months, she said.

Elvia Malagón/Sun-Times

Heartland Alliance, one of the resettlement agencies in Chicago, has assisted 35 Afghans who have arrived since August, said Lea Tienou-Gustafson, the director of refugee and immigrant community services for Heartland. The agency expects it will resettle 200 to 300 Afghans in the coming months.

“We know the people that we are working with have had and are currently enduring a number of traumas,” she said. “As a trauma-informed provider, we want to be able to welcome them to Illinois and Chicago with open arms and with a full array of services that meets their mental health needs, cultural and linguistic needs as well.”

Duckworth said she is pushing in the U.S. Senate for resettlement agencies to get more money to help families get on their feet and become independent faster.

She’s also keeping tabs on the unaccompanied minors coming from Afghanistan and was expecting to get a separate briefing about that. In September, about 75 unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan arrived in Chicago.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust. 

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