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Madison refugee resettlement agency prepares for influx amid Taliban seize in Afghanistan

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 9:48 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As the Afghan government’s collapse intensifies, thousands of refugees are looking to flee the country, and many may end up in Wisconsin.

So far, at least 1,200 refugees from Afghanistan have fled to the United States under U.S. Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), according to CNN. Many of them worked with the U.S. during the war.

Jewish Social Services (JSS) of Madison is the sole official refugee resettling agency in the area, and only one of four total statewide. Executive Director Dawn Berney said from May to late July, the non-profit assisted 14 people from Afghanistan relocate in Madison. All of them had ties to the Madison area prior to moving to the U.S.

“Many people who were planning on maybe never leaving Afghanistan are changing their minds right now because it isn’t safe for them,” Berney said.

With tensions rising amid the Taliban seize, Berney said she expects more people will need help in the coming months. Berney said their agency could receive as little as 24 hours notice before learning of another case. Once they decide to take on a new client, they could arrive 24 to 48 hours later.

“We may be resettling as many as 26 more refugees between now and the end of September,” she said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Dept. of Defense may relocate thousands of Afghans to Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.

“There may be other sites identified if services are needed, additional capacity is needed,” the lead for the Defense Dept. Special Immigration Visa effort, Garry Reid, said. “At this point, we’re looking to establish 22,000 spaces.”

It is unclear when those refugees will arrive, and how many will go to Fort McCoy. It is also not known if local agencies, like JSS, will assist in those relocation efforts.

“The refugees that are coming here tend to already have family and friends here, and we expect that is who we will continue to see as time goes on,” Berney said.

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