SAN JOSE (KPIX) — The network of religious organizations, non-profits, community service providers, volunteers, and donors in the Bay Area is ramping up in preparation for waves of several hundred Afghan refugees into the South Bay, East Bay and beyond.
“Right now, we just expect the numbers to keep going up. Between now and September, we probably expect to resettle 200,” said Holly Taines White, Senior Director of Development and Community Engagement for Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay.READ MORE: Oakland Ties 2020 Homicide Total in First 9 Months of 2021
According to White, this initial round of Afghans arriving to Alameda and Contra Costa Counties have a local connection to a friend or relative or have a special immigrant visa. Some of the refugees had supported the US government in some capacity, making them targets for the Taliban.
White added that there’s been an “outpouring” of support, with thousands signing up to volunteer.
“That’s one of the things we just love so much about resettling refugees in this community, is that it truly is a welcoming community, and a warm community. And they understand the sort of moral imperative of providing safety and refuge to these people,” said White.
Mindy Berkowitz, executive director of Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, also expects to resettle approximately 200 Afghans by the end of September, and said the most immediate need is housing. Berkowitz put out the call to property owners with vacancies.
“What we used to call an in-law unit, or additional house in the backyard. We have people who might be empty nesters who still have a large home, and can open their home to a family. We are also seeking, and working with people who own apartment buildings, or own an Airbnb,” said Berkowitz.READ MORE: Advocates for Immigrant Rights March From Santa Rosa to Healdsburg
JFSSV has also set a fundraising goal of $500,000 in the six months, to hire more staff, and double the number of case managers and mental health counselors, job training and other resources.
“The Bay Area is a place that celebrates diversity, and I know that we will do everything we can to welcome these refugees who were there for us when we needed them,” said Berkowitz.
The Bay Area has a long history of supporting refugees, one of the most notable being the first flight of Operation Babylift, which landed in Oakland in 1975. Hamilton Air Force Base in Novato processed thousands of Vietnamese refugees in subsequent years, many of whom resettled nearby. The Bay Area is now home to one of the largest clusters of Vietnamese Americans in the country.
For Dr. Tung Nguyen at UCSF, watching the images of Afghans crowding US installations, chasing after American military planes on the tarmac, and handing infants over to Marines, has been eerily reminiscent of the Fall of Saigon and chaotic evacuation in 1975.
“Those photos from Afghanistan, have really been emotionally traumatic for me,” said Nguyen.
Nguyen, the president of PIVOT, the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization, has released an open letter calling for more Afghan refugees to be allowed into the US.MORE NEWS: Pelosi Expects House to Pass Infrastructure Bill This Week
“I think Vietnamese Americans being in the United States has really helped the country. And I have no doubt that the Afghan refugees that we let into this country will, over time, contribute greatly to our country,” said Nguyen. “The Vietnamese Americans who are here, are here mainly because they took risks. And they had people who helped them. And we can just not sit by and do nothing while someone else is going through the same thing as we did.”