Catholic Charities has committed to resettling 75 Afghan refugees in Fort Wayne. The organization and partners announced Nov. 17 that 60 people have arrived in the Summit City and the charity expects to help relocate 15 more.

The new residents include adults and children. Some have been placed in temporary homes or with friends or family, and some are still living in hotels. Already, two students have been enrolled in East Allen County Schools, which serves much of the southeast quadrant of Fort Wayne.

The information was shared at a news conference at the University of Saint Francis Historic Woman’s Club on West Wayne Street behind the USF Downtown Campus.

Catholic Charities spokesman Dan Florin thanked Mayor Tom Henry and other community leaders who are assisting with the relocation and integration of the new residents. Florin is the interim CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Asked whether the relocation covers the entire diocese, Florin said the initial 75 refugees will be located specifically in Fort Wayne. “That number is consistently being assessed based on need and capacity,” the charity said in a news release.

“Our refugee resettlement program is built upon three pillars,” Florin said. “Those are case management, health care and employment services, with a goal of economic self-sufficiency within the first three to six months of arrival. Everything we do flows from the core belief in the dignity of the human person. We walk alongside those we serve on their unique journey to self-sufficiency, helping them overcome barriers along the way.”

Florin thanked a network of local agencies who are assisting in the project.

Henry said the city of Fort Wayne has worked well with Catholic Charities on this project and on similar projects in the past.

Henry said he is committed to ensuring Fort Wayne is a welcoming city for those forced to flee their home countries.

“Fort Wayne is a recognized leader for demonstrating respect, value, diversity and inclusion of those individuals who want to call Fort Wayne home,” Henry said. “The resettlement process is detailed and organized, and proper vetting protocols have been followed. I’m looking forward to positive outcomes as we invest in the lives of individuals and families.”

As the U.S. military left Afghanistan, many Afghan families fled the country, some with only the clothes on their backs. “They need humanitarian support while starting afresh,” the charity said.

Evacuees initially are stationed at safe haven camps until they can be resettled between now and March. Those safe havens include Camp Atterbury, a 34,000-acre military training center in south-central Indiana.

Aaron Batt, Homeland Security federal coordinating officer for Operation Allies Welcome at Camp Atterbury, also addressed the news conference. He said about 7,200 Afghan evacuees have been received at Atterbury, with 2,300 already resettling into communities across the country. Batt said about 1,300 military personnel and 160 federal and nongovernment organizations are assisting in the care and resettlement of the new arrivals.

Samir Zubair, a district manager for a food chain, related his journey from being a 13-year-old Afghan refugee who came to Fort Wayne in 2001 to being a Fort Wayne businessman today. “I remember the first day the Taliban took over. There was chaos everywhere,” he said.

“The programs Fort Wayne had in place even 20 years ago is the reason why I’m who I am today, being able to run my restaurant chain here in Fort Wayne,” Zubair said. “I remember I barely spoke any English when I came here,” he said, commending the English as a Second Language program and his ESL teachers. “Today to be here and to see those Afghans coming from Afghanistan and going through the same situation we were in, it’s humbling to be a part of this group and I’m so thankful to the mayor and the city and everyone else that the doors are open, because these people are displaced just like we were.”

Zubair serves as a translator with the local relocation program. He said he met with some of the refugees just the previous week. “The efforts Catholic Charities is taking — it’s amazing,” he said. “They’re all happy. They’re excited to be here ... in the United States.”

Nyein Chan, CCFWSB’s resettlement supervisor, also spoke from the perspective of a former refugee, a member of Fort Wayne’s vast Burmese community. He helps to provide translation services when necessary but helps in many ways. “We guide them, we mentor them,” Chan said. “We train them how to be good neighbors where they are living in our community.”

“We do the best we can, we do as much as we can. Of course with the community support we can do much better,” he said.

Nicole Hahn, diocese communications secretary, touched on that topic in adjourning the news conference. She said the resettlement effort welcomes volunteers, other contributions and direct financial support. Learn more about those possibilities at ccfwsb.org.

Jennifer Mabee, Title III director for East Allen County Schools, remarked that the first Afghan refugee students are being integrated smoothly. “Just like any of our other refugee students, when they come into the schools we evaluate where they are with their language abilities, and each child receives an individualized learning plan, and then our ESL teaches come alongside and support that, and we work to make sure they are able to produce at a level (equivalent) to their peers,” she said.

Catholic Charities noted that both EACS and Fort Wayne Community Schools “have great ESL programs to help children learn English.”

Also on the panel was Lisa Woods, Fort Wayne Police Department liaison officer for community relations. In a prepared summary, Catholic Charities noted that the city and FWPD treat all residents the same despite their country or origin. Police receive cultural awareness training to prepare them to be received at the homes of different cultural groups.

Operation Allies Welcome opened Aug. 17, taking in 82,000 evacuees. Camp Atterbury began refugee operations Sept. 1.

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