'Very concerned': Local advocates will welcome Afghan refugees but press Biden to help more

About a dozen Afghan families are expected to find safe harbor in the suburbs through World Relief in the coming weeks and months, but the refugee resettlement agency and other advocacy groups are imploring President Joe Biden to step up evacuations from Afghanistan.

World Relief Chicagoland joined more than 300 organizations in sending a message to Biden Friday affirming that they are “ready to welcome all Afghans in need of refuge” from Taliban rule.

“We have a moral obligation to evacuate our allies and stand by those who stood by us, and we need to do everything that we can as the U.S. to evacuate them and get them out of harm's way,” World Relief Executive Director Susan Sperry said.

Refugee advocates have watched in horror at the chaotic scenes of thousands swarming the Kabul airport.

“We're very, very concerned for those who are most vulnerable right now,” Sperry said. “We're concerned for those who helped the U.S. military. We're concerned for women and girls. We're concerned for religious minorities. We're concerned for the LGBTQ community. There are so many people who are very vulnerable because of the ideology that the Taliban espouses.”

Biden on Friday vowed to evacuate Afghan allies who worked alongside U.S. troops over two decades of war. “We're making the same commitment,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

But Sunil Varghese, policy director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, said Biden provided few details on how vulnerable Afghans would be able to leave the country or what would happen to them after being evacuated.

Varghese called on Biden to facilitate secure entry to the airport for Afghans, ramp up the number of military and commercial flights leaving Kabul, and take “immediate steps to ensure that evacuated Afghans are not languishing in third countries in poor conditions.”

“IRAP's clients have made every effort to contact the U.S. government and either cannot safely get to Kabul or the airport,” Varghese said in a statement. “Even those with airplane tickets and evacuation notices are being turned away from the airport by the Taliban and U.S. military, sometimes by force. Pregnant women have waited for more than 10 hours outside the airport, while others have been tear-gassed and shot at.”

In June, World Relief was one of 70 groups that signed a letter urging the Biden administration to implement plans to evacuate U.S.-affiliated Afghans and to authorize as many special immigrant visas, or SIVs, as necessary in conjunction with the drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan.

Interpreters or contractors are among those who qualify for special visas. They don't count toward the cap on U.S. refugee admissions, though successful applicants are eligible for the same assistance that refugees receive when they arrive.

“But the program has been plagued with dangerous delays for applicants and unnecessary bureaucratic complications, exacerbated by challenges with in-country processing,” the letter noted.

At World Relief's suburban offices, the arrival of SIV recipients “has very slowly picked up over the last couple months alongside the refugee resettlement program overall,” Sperry said.

Locally, World Relief, a faith-based organization contracted by the government to resettle refugees, plans to welcome just over 100 people, including SIV holders, by the end of September, Sperry said.

The Biden administration capped refugee admissions to 62,500 for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Through July, arrivals totaled just 6,246, according to the State Department.

Biden has pledged to raise the ceiling to 125,000 for the coming fiscal year. World Relief then expects to resettle as many as 500 people in the suburbs, Sperry said.

“That would be the most that we would project for next year, but that's quite a big increase from the number of people that we welcome this year,” she said.

Images of military aircraft flying out of Kabul show Afghans are leaving with nothing more than plastic bags and the clothing on their backs.

To support Afghan families, World Relief's offices in Carol Stream are collecting donations of household supplies and gift cards that can be used to buy groceries and gas. Volunteers can also provide English tutoring and transportation assistance.

“One more big need right now is housing,” Sperry said. “So there's, of course, throughout our community a shortage of available and affordable housing, and so any landlords or folks who have housing available for rent, we'd love them to reach out to us so we can talk further.”

She expects the volunteer needs to continue into the fall.

“We're hearing a lot of concern from the community about the situation, and we're very, very grateful for that,” Sperry said. “We're standing with our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and want to do all we can to assist.”

Hundreds of people gather Tuesday outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press
A map in World Relief's Carol Stream offices in 2018 showed where refugees were coming from. Daily Herald file photo
"Our focus is very much on encouraging the administration to act very quickly to get Afghans who assisted the U.S. and others in harm's way to a safe place," said World Relief Executive Director Susan Sperry, seen in the group's Carol Stream offices in 2018. Daily Herald file photo

How to help

World Relief Chicagoland has identified areas of need to support newly arriving Afghan refugees:

• Volunteer: People can sign up to volunteer online at <a href=""></a>. Volunteers can help with English tutoring, transportation, apartment setup and more.

• Mail gift cards: Amazon, Walmart, Uber or gas station gift cards can be sent to World Relief, 191 S. Gary Ave., Carol Stream, IL 60188.

• Drop off donations: World Relief offices in Carol Stream are collecting household supplies to help refugees rebuild their lives. People can donate new towel and wash cloth sets, new twin and full sheet sets, clothing hangers, tea, instant coffee, women's shave cream and razors, alarm clocks, pots and pans, Rubbermaid storage tubs, tall kitchen garbage cans, writing paper, postage stamps, rice cookers, first aid kits and small tools. Drop off donations in waterproof packaging and leave them inside the rear door with the World Relief sign at the back of the World Relief office building at 191 S. Gary Ave., Carol Stream.

• Give to Amazon wish list: World Relief's Early Childhood Program has a list of needed items on <a href="">Amazon</a>.

• Donate furniture: Contact Melanie Rohla at or call (630) 580-5062 to inquire.

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