Vermont to welcome more Afghan refugees than initially planned

Amila Merdzanovic, director of Vermont’s chapter of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, speaks in Rutland on Sept. 7. Photo by Emma Cotton/VTDigger

Vermont is welcoming more Afghan refugees than originally planned. 

The U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants Vermont placed a bid with the State Department to resettle 100 refugees. 

But the refugees are now living on military bases, where conditions are difficult for them. Many are ready to leave, and there is a push to move them to communities more quickly than originally scheduled. 

Vermont has now agreed to take 130. 

“Afghan refugees have started coming at a pretty rapid pace,” Amila Merdzanovic, director of USCRI Vermont, told VTDigger. As of Monday, more than 40 refugees had arrived in Vermont, Merdzanovic said. 

All of them are being placed with host families — partly because of the rush to get people out of bases and partly because finding permanent housing is so daunting in Vermont.

“Our biggest challenge is housing,” Merdzanovic said.

She asked property managers and landlords who might have apartments available, especially three- and four-bedroom units, to get in touch with USCRI Vermont. She said every Afghan arriving in Vermont will get a one-time payment of $1,225 from the federal government and can use that money for rent. Larger families could see their rent covered for up to six months. 

Because the goal is to get people working as quickly as possible, Merdzanovic said many will become self-sufficient quickly.

“People are going to work,” she said. “We’re able to place people into employment very quickly after arrival.” 

Merdzanovic said single refugees, couples and families with children are being placed in Chittenden County, central Vermont and the Rutland region. 

Arrivals are scheduled every other day. 

Some refugees speak English. Others do not. USCRI Vermont has Pashto and Dari interpreters on staff and is continuing to recruit Pashto, Dari and Farsi interpreters.

Merdzanovic said USCRI Vermont is accepting donations of gift cards to grocery stores.

“Host families are being very generous, but a family of six, seven, eight or nine coming into someone’s home, we want to make sure that they have groceries,” Merdzanovic said.

She said USCRI Vermont is also accepting gift cards to department stores.

“People are coming with very little, in some cases just a backpack,” Merdzanovic said.

She said USCRI Vermont has winter outerwear but has limited storage space and does not have other clothes or shoes. 

USCRI Vermont is also accepting new infant, toddler and booster car seats.

Merdzanovic said her organization is still recruiting host families and volunteers. 

Another group, to be resettled under a bid from the Ethiopian Development Community Council, is expected to arrive in Brattleboro in December.