ETSS, a Columbus nonprofit, wants to help resettle refugees

It was never unusual for Tatjana Bozhinovski to provide services to immigrants through her work with a local non-profit group.

But it wasn’t until last November that she and her colleagues began welcoming refugees from the start – when they arrived at John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

Bozhinovski is a site coordinator at the nonprofit Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS), which has provided employment, health and other programs to new U.S. residents since 2000.

Today, the organization hopes to take on the initial resettlement task and help the city’s refugee populations from the start.

Since November, ETSS has been helping to receive the hundreds of Afghan evacuees who have been assigned to Columbus. Meanwhile, the organization is in the process of applying to become an official resettlement agency, according to ETSS President Dr. Seleshi Asfaw.

“When we started this Afghan resettlement program, it really opened a door for us,” Asfaw said. “We already have a national partner. We have already started to build our resettlement infrastructure and our partnerships with different ministries and community organizations. We know how it works now.

If the application is granted, ETSS would become the third resettlement organization in the city – restoring the number to where it was before federal funding cuts under the Trump administration forced an agency, World Relief, to close its offices. Doors locally in 2017.

“The Columbus resettlement program has really suffered over the past four years, and we need to rebuild the infrastructure,” Asfaw said. “With the crisis in Afghanistan, Ukraine and all over the world, the resettlement of refugees is very demanding, and we want to help serve this population.”

Read more: First Afghan families, evacuees begin arriving in Columbus, hundreds more to follow

Link resettlement to long-term services

Although not yet an official resettlement agency, the ETSS has partnered with a national organization – the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service – and helped bring 64 Afghans into the central Ohio. The group is expected to resettle about 35 more people in the coming months, Asfaw said.

Columbus’s two existing resettlement agencies, Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) and US Together, have so far hosted 306 and 195 Afghan evacuees, respectively.

What differentiates ETSS from other agencies is that it has offered a broader range of programs to new Americans for two decades, Asfaw said.

With 17 offices in Columbus and more than 150 staff, the organization offers job training and job placement, after-school programs for children, mental health interventions, case management for survivors of gender-based violence, among other things. services.

“We have all these programs to help new Americans integrate and become self-sufficient, so all that remains is to welcome refugees outside the airport,” he said. “We want to be able to welcome newcomers from the start, meeting their basic needs before connecting them to our already existing programs.”

Read more: ‘What’s happening there is literally a holocaust’: Afghan couple flee to Columbus

Abdul Hamidi, 24, and Ahmad Hamidi, 21, for example, traveled from Afghanistan to Columbus via ETSS in December.

Abdul Hamidi holds an engineering degree from an Afghan university and his brother was a second-year engineering student before he was forced to leave his home country last year. The brothers said they hope to participate in ETSS’ Matched Savings Program – a federally funded program that matches new refugees’ savings up to $2,000 to help them create independent lives.

“When we came here, we didn’t know how things worked,” Abdul Hamidi said. “Social workers found us an apartment, gave us our social security numbers so we could work, and we still have English lessons there almost every morning. Our goal is to find a job and, with the ETSS program, to save enough money to go back to university.

Read more: Ohio lawyers take on pro bono cases to help at-risk Afghans come to the United States

Local agencies respond to evolving national policies

ETSS’s potential entry into the relocation scene in Columbus comes at a time when the landscape can change rapidly and uncertainties prevail.

The number of refugees who traveled to Ohio during the Trump presidency fell from 4,344 in 2016 to 552 in 2020.

When President Joe Biden announced in September an increase in the national refugee cap to the highest the country has seen since the 1990s, however, CRIS and US Together received notifications that they were to take in 959 and 600 refugees, respectively. in fiscal year 2022. In the previous fiscal year, the two clusters combined only hosted a total of 188 refugees.

The U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan last August created additional resettlement needs, and Biden recently announced that the U.S. would take in up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, though the administration has yet to develop a plan. concrete.

Given the difficult-to-predict national commitment, some fear that an additional agency will create competition for resources both nationally and locally.

Angie Plummer, executive director of CRIS, pointed out that the federal funding her agency receives depends largely on the number of refugees assigned to it. The number of arrivals has always been unpredictable, she said, and having another agency could starve CRIS of clients and funding.

“If overall refugee processing resumes and we can rely on a steady number of arrivals so that we do not fall below what is needed to adequately support our staff, then I have no objection to the third agency to Columbus,” Plummer said. “However, we must be aware of the availability of accommodation and the capacity of health examinations, schools and other service providers.”

Nadia Kasvin, director of US Together, declined to comment on ETSS’s application to become a resettlement agency.

Asfaw said his goal is for ETSS to complement the work of existing organizations to strengthen Columbus’ core relocation infrastructure and meet rapidly changing demands as they arise.

“We are not here to compete with other organizations,” he said. “We are here to provide more resources and support.”

Yilun Cheng is a member of the Report for America body and covers immigration issues for The Dispatch. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation at bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.

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