Author: Kristyn Peck, LSSNCA CEO
August 15 marks one year since the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Just two months before, there were more than 2.6 million Afghan refugees registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) globally. Hundreds of thousands more have fled or been evacuated since August 2021, with the United States evacuating more than 76,000.
The fall of Afghanistan came at a time when Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA) was rebuilding its refugee program after the national U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) was systematically dismantled by the previous administration.
Without hesitation, LSSNCA committed to welcoming all Afghan refugees that came to our door. We did this because it is our mission to accompany those in need to foster resiliency, self-sufficiency, and access to opportunities by creating, connecting with, and engaging welcoming communities. We did this because the only thing that felt right to any of us as we were watching the coverage of persons fleeing uncertain death and everything they knew to seek safety was to help. We did this because many of us are refugees, or we have loved ones who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, and we know what that feels like. We did this because we knew our community would rally behind us and our commitment, and YOU DID.
Because of our dedicated team and our supportive community, LSSNCA welcomed more Afghan Allies than any other single resettlement agency on the East Coast. You provided us towers of in-kind donations that furnished our new neighbors’ very first homes in the United States. You set up hundreds of homes in Maryland and Virginia. You provided us donations, allowing us to deliver services and direct assistance when our Afghan neighbors were not yet eligible for government benefits or services. We built new partnerships and strengthened existing partnerships, increasing the representation at LSSNCA’s table alongside the Muslim, Afghan, Jewish, multi-denominational Christian, and veteran communities.
In the past year, LSSNCA has resettled more than 4,500 Afghans in the D.C. metro area. This is nearly three times our record high of serving 1,675 refugees in fiscal year 2017. This is more than three times the number of refugees we served during the entire previous presidential administration. We said yes, and continued to say yes, even when finding affordable housing in this area of the country is challenging, even when it required us to work around the clock while we were increasing our capacity as we were engaging in an emergency response, even before we had the federal grants to support the work because we believe in building a bigger table.
With the State Department’s restriction to direct U.S. ties in the DMV area, and our summer pause, we had time to grow our team, refine and strengthen our procedures, and create new strategic relationships to continue ensuring we are meeting the needs of those we are currently serving by providing quality and equitable services. During this time, we also hosted model largescale pro se asylum legal clinics addressing the immigration needs of Afghan Allies. We’ve had six clinics in the past two months completing more than 200 principal asylum applications (each representing a family of four on average) and are hosting more clinics in August and September.
Thank you for being that community of welcome and for your partnership in our work to create thriving communities. We know we can’t control the world around us, but by coming together, we can work towards our vision of an inclusive community of well-being where all people thrive.