University of Maryland shelters Afghan refugees
by: Michael Purdie
On April 5, the University of Maryland (UMD) announced that it would provide temporary housing to refugees from Afghanistan through a partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), in what would be an apparent first-of-its-kind approach for a public university. According to UMD Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Patty Perillo, the university has provided housing to four families, with a reported total of about 35 individuals included.
The university’s announcement included UMD President Darryll Pines’ statement in support of the initiative: “The University of Maryland is part of a global community, and when we have the opportunity to support humanity, we embrace it. We look forward to providing on-campus housing and being good neighbors to Afghan families. They are U.S. allies who have braved a terrifying situation, and we are happy that we can offer them a welcoming community as they seek permanent housing.”
UMD acted quickly as the refugee crisis in Afghanistan started to unfold in August 2021. Perillo assembled a team to develop the university’s response and an action plan. The university’s willingness to accommodate refugees fleeing persecution marked a significant and novel choice. According to the university’s statement, the action was a first; no other public university had made campus facilities available in this way before.
Perillo understood the complex circumstances that Afghan refugees faced and underscored that the university carefully and responsibly considered possible actions. “These individuals are U.S. allies who have served honorably and at great personal risk to themselves alongside U.S. troops, diplomats, and other government employees, such as interpreters, translators, cultural advisors, drivers, and more,” she stated. “These individuals and their families are eligible for resettlement in the U.S. through the federal Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. The SIV gives those who worked with U.S. forces and personnel a legal path to safety if they now face the possibility of persecution and violence in Afghanistan because of their support to U.S. efforts there. The families have completed extensive U.S. government processing including background checks, immigration paperwork, and medical screenings.”
IRC representatives and campus and community volunteers have been providing the families with a range of services to help them secure permanent housing and employment. A number of local businesses and university departments have been offering direct support to the families, as well, providing food and basic staples, and the university’s library system is collecting bilingual books for them.
“Our university’s strategic commitments include partnering with others – IRC and the U.S. Department of Education and others – to solve the grand challenges of our time,” Perillo wrote in an email. “This is clearly one of the grand challenges of our time. Our students will learn a lot as they live among these refugee partners.”