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Cedar Rapids nonprofit ready to accept Afghan refugees amid chaos

Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids (Photo by Iowa's News Now)
Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids (Photo by Iowa's News Now)
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An Iowa non-profit is ready to shelter Afghan refuges.

The Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids is the only refugee and immigrant service provider in Eastern Iowa. No Afghan immigrants have reached out to the center, but officials with the center told Iowa's News Now they will accept any refugees.

Afghanistan natives are trying to escape their war-weary country, which is now under Taliban control. U.S. military planes are conducting around-the-clock evacuations at the airport in Kabul, the country's capital, after the collapse on Sunday of the government.

"It's difficult, you know. It pulls at the heart strings," said Sara Zejnic, the director of immigrant and refugee services at the Catherine McAuley Center. "Every time a refugee shares their story, it's an honor, because this is someone opening up their greatest fears to you. The process for refugees to enter into the United States takes an extremely long time."

The people the nonprofit normally work with are people from places like Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Myanmar and Congo.

The nonprofit is expecting to see more than twice the number of immigrants it saw from October 2020 to September 2021 in its next fiscal year. The center saw 120 immigrants during that span.

The Biden Administration is allowing more immigrants into the U.S. compared to the previous administration. Because of that, the center is expecting to assist more than 300 immigrants starting fiscal year 2022, which starts in October.

The McAuley Center operates under the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which is one of nine voluntary agencies under the U.S. State Department. A branch of the federal government that is responsible for foreign policy and international relations.

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The Afghan people coming quickly to the U.S. right now are likely people with Special Immigrant Visa holders, who are able to be processed (screened/vetted) more quickly because they were screened intensively prior to their employment with or by the U.S. military. The people who have not worked for the military do not qualify for SIV status. They will need to wait longer to be screened as refugees.

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