Prepare for the Influx of Refugees 

By Ford Rowan | June 20, 2022

The slow pace of refugee settlement may be about to get busy here in the United States because of the carnage in Ukraine.

The need to help victims of the Russian attacks in Ukraine is obvious. But two other problems may complicate them.

First, the US government has been moving slowly to admit refugees from Afghanistan, many of whom are housed at or near military bases in America.  Afghan refugees have a tough time getting admitted into communities, including Annapolis.  Folks from several churches have been eager to help, but the pipeline for admitting them is very slow .

Right now my church, St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, is teamed with First Presbyterian Church and with Calvary United Methodist Church to support a family that is currently living in a house in downtown Annapolis.  We need to prepare for more. 

On June 13, I participated in a zoom call with the leadership of the Maryland VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters).  It is an umbrella group working with the US government and state and local groups active in volunteer services. It is affiliated with the Lutheran refugee service as well as numerous church groups.

The Maryland VOAD has been given $6,000 to help Afghan refugee relief.  About 2,000 Afghan refugees have now been cleared for entry from military bases into American society; a process that is taking longer than many of us expected.  Some are in temporary housing and do not have cars.  

The leaders of VOAD also expect a large number of refugees from Ukraine will also come.  The preliminary estimate is about 100,000 (of which 1,000 could be expected to settle in Maryland).  These Ukrainian refugees must have sponsors in order to provide transportation and housing.  VOAD is asking congregations to help by sponsoring these families.

The second complication is due to a separate migration: those migrants who have crossed the Southern border into Texas and Arizona and are now coming by busloads into DC and Maryland suburbs. This exodus is separate from the Afghan and Ukraine refugee arrivals. Here in Annapolis our St. Anne’s refugee committee had planned to help tutor Hispanic students but COVID forced us to put off this project two years ago. 

In recent weeks I talked with 3 experts in Europe about the refugee challenge.  One is a news reporter who has been in the front lines covering the war in Ukraine, one is an ambassador from a nation that is a NATO member, and one is a university professor who was born in Ireland and was traveling there during the time I was in Europe. They all said that the Ukrainian refugee numbers will grow a lot.  

I was told that efforts by some countries — like Britain — to turn refugees away and send them to Rwanda might increase.  I came away from these conversations feeling that the refugee situation is likely to get much bigger than Europe can manage by itself.  

If so, we need to be ready to help.  The lull that we have experienced is temporary.  We have a healthy collaboration with Methodists, Presbyterans, and — I hope soon — with Catholics and Lutherans.  The challenge will be to expand our sponsoring of families here in Annapolis.

Please continue to pray for those whose homes have been destroyed, whose lives have been uprooted, and are seeking to live peacefully here.  Please remember that Jesus instructed us to welcome strangers and love our neighbors.