August 30, 2021
Hundreds of people fleeing violence in Afghanistan arrived in Philadelphia over the weekend, turning the airport into a hub of resources that city officials say will only get busier in the coming days.
More than 500 Afghan men, women and children landed at Philadelphia International Airport on Saturday, and 378 evacuees arrived on three planes Sunday, according to the city. They were greeted with signs reading, "We welcome you to the United States of America," space for prayer and supplies to get them settled on the next step of their journey. City officials said nine flights carrying hundreds more people were expected to land at PHL on Monday, but the situation is subject to change.
"We anticipate this operation picking up speed in the coming days," Mayor Jim Kenney said Sunday.
Interpreters speaking Dari, Pashto, Urdu and Farsi are on hand to navigate individuals and families through medical evaluations, including a mandatory COVID-19 test, and a team of nonprofits and volunteers is providing everything from food and hygiene products to mental health support and stuffed animals for children. Additional interpreters are needed with the Philadelphia Medical Reserve Corps and must sign up on the State Emergency Registry of Volunteers in Pennsylvania's website.
Many of the evacuees are being taken to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County. The Inquirer reports that some must first stop at a processing site in Camden, where those who are not American citizens and legal permanent residents will be screened by intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals.
Philadelphia was the second American city to welcome evacuees from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country's capital, Kabul. PHL was chosen to receive evacuation flights to help take some of the strain off Dulles International Airport, which as of Aug. 27 had seen 14,000 Afghan men, women and children move through its doors, according to The Washington Post.
The Nationalities Services Center and HIAS Pennsylvania, are raising money to support both immediate and long-term resettlement efforts. NSC is also putting together Welcome Kits and has an Amazon Wishlist through which essential household supplies can be purchased for evacuees. The organization is not accepting clothing donations but recommends they be directed through Cradles to Crayons, The Wardrobe or Jewish Family and Children's Services.
HIAS Pennsylvania accepts some in-kind donations, household goods like bedding, towels and kitchenware, and has a Target registry set up for online shoppers. Businesses that are able to donate supplies can contact either NSC’s Adi Altman (email@example.com) or Anneke Kat with HIAS Pennsylvania (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Donations ranging from shoes and clothing to phone charges and baby formula can be made to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Check out the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team's Facebook page for more info on how to drop off supplies or shop virtually with the team's Amazon Wishlist.
NSC and HIAS Pennsylvania are also organizing volunteer opportunities. With NSC, you can sign up to drive families from the airport to their new homes, set up homes for new arrivals and cook Afghan meals to provide comfort during a stressful time. HIAS Pennsylvania is especially looking for Airbnb hosts who can provide temporary housing and individuals with legal backgrounds to assist evacuees and current residents who need to stay in the United States. Realtors and landlords who can provide affordable housing for six months to a year should email Community Engagement Specialist Anneke Kat (email@example.com).
Afghan evacuees with Special Immigrant Visas will be authorized to work in the country when they arrive, according to HIAS Pennsylvania. Employers who are hiring can contact Employment Program Manager Enock Sanon (firstname.lastname@example.org).