Ithaca Welcomes Refugees

Ithaca Welcomes Refugees tabling (picture provided)

A Note from GreenStar: Ithaca Welcomes Refugees is one of 10 local nonprofit organizations voted among GreenStar’s membership to be a 2022 Partner for Change. Read more about our Partners for Change program here.

By Casey Verderosa, IWR Executive Director

Ithaca Welcomes Refugees begins 2022 on the tails of a 2021 that accelerated from relatively dormant to bustling. Last January, IWR, like refugee assistance organizations across the country, was not seeing new arrivals due to slashes to the annual numbers of refugees the U.S. would admit and the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, however, caused a sudden burst of activity.

The primarily volunteer-run nonprofit assists refugees and at-risk migrants by providing initial apartment set up and orientation to the community and customizes its long-term assistance to each individual or family to ensure they can become self-sufficient and welcome members of the community. In response to an expressed need by refugee families, IWR also founded its Global Roots Play School in 2017, giving parents access to affordable and inclusive child care that would enable them to take ESL classes.

At the beginning of 2021, IWR was serving eight existing families and would have one additional family arrive over the summer. Then the U.S. withdrew troops from Afghanistan in August and the Taliban swiftly retook control of the country. Many Afghans who feared Taliban reprisals because of their work with the U.S. government or as journalists or women who held prominent positions braved danger and uncertainty to escape the country and many more remain.

Ithaca Welcomes Refugees launched a campaign to fund applications for entry into the U.S. for 21 of an IWR family’s relatives who are still in Kabul and in danger as a result of their work with the American government. The Ithaca community showed a huge amount of support for refugees and the $12,000 fundraising goal was surpassed in 48 hours. IWR has since raised money to fund additional applications through a collaboration with Cornell Law School, which has been completing the applications, totaling more than $20,000.

Although all applications IWR has funded are still pending due to slowdowns in refugee processing nationally, the organization still welcomed its largest-ever number of arrivals at the end of the year when Cornell University relocated nine students from the Asian University for Women to its Ithaca campus. The young Afghan women, whose university is located in Bangladesh, were studying remotely in Afghanistan due to the pandemic when the Taliban takeover occurred.

In collaboration with Cornell and a Syracuse resettlement agency, IWR’s volunteers have been providing the women with services it typically dispenses to refugee arrivals, including signing them up for public assistance benefits, arranging for medical and dental care, coordinating transportation, and providing some cash assistance.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2022, IWR hopes to continue its support of the Asian University for Women students, to welcome some of the Afghans whose immigration applications it funded, as well as refugees from other locations, and to reopen its Global Roots Play School, which has been closed since the start of the pandemic while awaiting vaccinations for the youngest age groups. None of these initiatives would be possible without the incredible support of the Ithaca community.