Tag Archives: Afghan refugees

Westport Steps Up For Afghan Refugees

Six years ago the Syrian crisis moved longtime Westporter John McGeehan to help lead a coalition of churches, synagogues and mosques to help resettle a family in Norwalk.

They pioneered, with Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, a model for community co-sponsorship. Local residents provide broad shoulders and deep pockets. The model has been replicated in more than 50 Connecticut towns and cities.

The swift Taliban conquest of Afghanistan sparked a national conversation about American efforts to resettle Afghan citizens who aided American forces, during our 20-year conflict.

An Afghan father and daughter, resettled in Connecticut.

Once again, as Connecticut prepares to welcome up to 700 refugees, McGeehan is hard at work. So is the Westport Rotary Club, and individuals like Robin Tauck.

For the past 3 years Robin — a Westporter, member of the worldwide tour company family, and sponsor of Greens Farms Academy’s World Perspectives program — and her daughter Colleen Leth have, through their non-profit foundation, worked with IRIS to sponsor refugees.

As the Afghan crisis unfolded, she thought of the Rotary Club. They’re busy with Saturday’s Lobsterfest fundraiser. But — true to their mission of worldwide service — they’ve taken on the added task of co-sponsoring a donation drive.

Next Tuesday (September 21) and from 12 to 3 p.m. on the weekends of September 25-26, October 2-3, 9-10 and 15-16, Greens Farms Congregational Church will accept drop-offs of winter coats, raincoats, and boots for adults, teenagers and children; school supplies and backpacks; new toiletries; cleaning and household supplies, and small appliances. “Boxed and labeled” is appreciated. Furniture and other clothing is not needed.

The donation drive is important. But it’s just the start.

Resettling refugees comes at a time when non-profits have been hit hard by the pandemic. Meanwhile, affordable rental stock is hard to find.

Each family of 2 to 4 needs an apartment near public transportation, language training, cultural assistance, women’s help, school assimilation, and $20,000 for the first year. Click here to donate.

Westport-Weston Interfaith Refugee Settlement is doing its part. The coalition — the United Methodist Church, Temple Israel, Greens Farms Congregational church, the Religious Society of friends, Saugatuck Congregational Church, and 15 Westport families identifying as a Muslim community — are working with IRIS to house and assist a family in East Norwalk.

Email jmcgeehan1956@gmail.com for more inforrmation.

Westporters Help Afghans. You Can, Too.

The news from Afghanistan — though horrifying — can seem thousands of miles away.

For Westport attorney Sam Leaf, it’s right next door.

He and attorney Jennifer Williams of Stamford-based Building One Community have teamed up to help a Connecticut man rescue his family from the Taliban.

Their client — whose name is withheld due to security concerns — was granted asylum several years ago, after he was kidnapped and tortured by the Taliban because of his ties to US companies.

His family members who remain in Afghanistan are now being threatened. Taliban soldiers are looking for them, including a family member who also was previously kidnapped and tortured. Several remain in hiding.

The world has been haunted by photos of Afghan refugees.

“This is a hard-working, educated family whose only ‘offense’ is that some of the men worked for Western-based companies, including on projects that benefited US forces,” says Leaf.

“The Taliban consider this to be a capital offense. If they are found, they almost certainly will be killed.

“We are also gravely concerned that the Taliban will harm other family members. The teenage girls are particularly at risk.”

Samuel Leaf

Leaf and Williams will file applications for “humanitarian parole” with the US Customs and Immigration Service on behalf of the entire family. That temporary status allows threatened individuals to come safely here.

A GoFundMe page has been posted to help defray the $575 filing fee for each application, and to seek assistance from the community. Over 20 families — many of them young children — need assistance.

Leaf’s wife Dorian Kail grew up in Westport. They’ve spent 20 years raising their family here.

“Westport has always been known for its generosity,” Leaf says. “We’re counting on them to help save this family from a fate that is almost impossible to imagine from the safety and comfort we enjoy here.”

Building One Community does not charge for its services. Leaf has taken this on  pro bono too, so all funds raised will go toward the filing fees and — if the applications are granted — getting this family out of the Taliban’s reach.

To contribute, or for more information, click here.

An Afghan woman (Photo/Lynsey Addario, courtesy of The Atlantic)

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Shortly after I finished writing the story above, I got an email from Sam Goodgame.

The 2007 Staples High School graduate — and West Point appointee — was an Airborne Ranger infantry officer. He served in the 101st Airborne Division in eastern Afghanistan.

Sam exited the military as a captain. He now leads the data science team at Morning Consult, a public opinion company in Washington, D.C.  We build data products that leverage machine learning and mountains of survey and third party data to generate prescriptive insights. 

He says:

My fiancée and I are helping evacuate vulnerable Afghans (former interpreters, at-risk women, etc.). She’s Afghan-American and speaks all of the languages.

I was in Afghanistan for 8 months; my interpreter worked for 7 years. His brother, who was not an interpreter, has received chilling death threats from the Taliban simply for his second-degree connection to US forces (i.e., me).

Sam Goodgame, in Afghanistan.

There’s one family in particular that I’m working for right now. One of my West Point friends is Ariana, an Afghan immigrant who was threatened by the Taliban as a 10-year-old, then enlisted in the US Army at 17. At West Point she became the first female Howitzer platoon leader in history. She’s now a mother, and an entrepreneur.

Eighty of her family members are stuck in Afghanistan, and they’re in danger because of their connection to her. He’s raising money to keep them safe, and help them escape.

“It’s difficult to support 80 people in the best of times,” Sam says.

“In Afghanistan right now, it requires a heroic amount of effort, and a non-trivial amount of cash.”

Donations support 2 main goals: keeping Ariana’s family safe while they are still in Afghanistan, and helping them escape safely. Some of the larger expenses include:

  • Shelter (rent for a constantly rotating array of safe houses)
  • Food and water
  • Medical support: doctors, nurses, technicians
  • Security guards and drivers
  • Vehicles and transportation around Afghanistan
  • Transportation for service providers
  • Passage out of Afghanistan to neighboring country
  • Passage from neighboring country to the US
  • Visa paperwork and other necessary administrative tasks (for example: a DHS Humanitarian Parole visa application costs $575).

Click here to help.