The 100th and final Afghan evacuee will land in Concord soon, perhaps next week. 

  • An Afghan woman holds her children as she waits for a consultation outside a makeshift clinic at a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts housing those displaced by war and drought near Herat, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2021. The aid-dependent country’s economy was already teetering when the Taliban seized power in mid-August amid a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops. The consequences have been devastating for a country battered by four decades of war, a punishing drought and the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov) Mstyslav Chernov

  • In this Aug. 21, 2021, image provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Airmen and U.S. Marines guide evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Senior Airman Brennen Lege/U.S. Air Force via AP) Senior Airman Brennen Lege

Monitor columnist
Published: 2/14/2022 3:45:09 PM
Modified: 2/14/2022 3:43:15 PM

Crissie Ferrara, the program manager for Ascentria Care Alliance, says the final Afghan evacuee out of 100 that Ascentria agreed to help will land in Manchester soon, perhaps this week.

And that means Phase I is done.

“It’s now a new phase of resettling,” Ferrara said. “The priority, the first thing, was to get everyone out of Kabul. Then out to a safe haven at army bases. Everyone here now needs to focus on permanent housing and finding jobs and workforce development. It’s more than simply picking them up from the airport.”

Ferrara and her colleagues have been coordinating their plan to bring the 100 Afghans to Concord since October. They knew what was coming once they saw those images of panic and chaos on television sets last summer, as the United States drew down its forces.

The Afghan Army was crumbling, unable or unwilling to defend itself against the government that American U.S. forces had pushed out for 20 years.

The exclamation point to that awful chapter were the deaths of 13 United States service members, killed by a lone suicide bomber at Kabul Airport as they tried to restore order and help eligible evacuees board planes.

Those allied with the U.S. during the war and considered to be in danger – government workers, police and soldiers – were ushered out first, granted quick access through a Special Immigrant Visa, before the capital fell.

From there, national refugee agencies spread the word, seeking from communities the number of Afghans they could incorporate into daily life, with prospects for a job and a home.

Ascentria agreed to aid 100 people. They’re called evacuees, not refugees, because they escaped from their homeland, not from a country in which they had already sought safety.

Evacuees are not considered permanent residents like refugees are and must apply for asylum within two years.

Meanwhile, the International Institute of New England, which focuses on helping evacuees and refugees in Manchester, welcomed 75 Afghan evacuees, making a total of 175 between the two organizations.

Apartments remain a need. Some families – called Neighborhood Support Teams – offer their homes on a temporary basis. These hosts sometimes decline to comment, worried the information on their new guests will get back to Afghanistan and pose a threat to loved ones still living there.

“There’s a lot of trauma,” Ferrara said. “They need mental health help and they are scared for loved ones back home, so there’s a lot of resistance from volunteers and evacuees.”

Ascentria was crippled recently due to harsh budget cuts. The funding has resumed, but the initial lack of money and ensuing layoffs meant a rush job was needed to build a new staff, a new rhythm, and new chemistry, at the worst possible time: a worldwide pandemic.

“We were understaffed,” Ferrara said. “The previous administration decimated the refugee program, so in 2021 we were trying to re-establish what we had with a new administration. A lot of time was needed to be able to respond to this kind of emergency.”

Workload and COVID have meant all hands on deck. Shorthanded, Ferrara has worked in the trenches, driving to the airport to pick up evacuees, greeting them at hotels, contributing information on culture, food, shopping.

An English lesson, as raw as it may be, sometimes emerges.

Ferrara said evacuee No. 100 is due this week. All the arrangements have been made for one last trip to the airport. One more chance at a new life. The end of Phase I.

Ferrara has met the others as they slowly depart airplanes in Manchester, carrying perhaps the equivalent of a lifetime inside a knapsack. She’s seen their eyes, often apprehensive, sometimes dulled by trauma, or the flight landing at 3 in the morning.

“It's been a busy four months,” Ferrara said.

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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