Yale Daily News

Over the next year, nearly 1,000 Afghan refugees are set to arrive in Connecticut, many to New Haven. 

Chris George, the executive director of Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services, said at a Monday press conference that the organization expects refugee arrivals to be spread throughout the coming year. Alongside George, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and representatives from other resettlement organizations across the state said community support will be required in local efforts to offer integration services for those arriving. 

Aid organizations like Elena’s Light, which provides English instruction to refugee women, and Sanctuary Kitchen, which employs immigrants and refugees to lead cooking classes and culinary events, are also preparing to offer legal, social and economic support to the city’s newest residents. 

“We are ready, we welcome you with our arms open,” Elicker said in a broad message to refugees at the press conference, which took place outside of the First and Summerfield Church in Downtown. “We as a city are so grateful of the partnership that we have with so many leaders, whether it’s our federal delegation, nonprofit partners or church partners, to say that New Haven is your home and we welcome you here.” 

In an interview with the News, Elicker said that as a declared sanctuary city, New Haven has a proven recent history as a place welcoming to refugees, undocumented immigrants and those “experiencing oppression.” 

With the impending influx of refugees, Elicker urged residents to reach out to organizations like IRIS, with whom the city is partnered, to find a way they can contribute — such as donating furniture or basic necessities. 

George agreed. New Haveners, he said, can help arriving Afghan refugees by volunteering with local organizations, or donating winter clothes as the weather cools. 

“The response to this crisis has been just overwhelming, and we’re going to need all the help we can get. And it looks like Connecticut is, once again, going to step up and help refugees at a time of historic crisis,” George told the News. 

Over the past months, George said that IRIS has helped eight to 10 Afghan families settle into the Elm City. The number in need is expected to rise sharply over the coming weeks.

Most recently, IRIS has worked to find incoming refugees affordable housing, with the hope of having preparations in place before arrivals increase. George said the organization also expects to look for more staff. 

Organizations in New Haven, such as Sanctuary Kitchen, will share in the responsibility of supporting refugees. 

Sanctuary Kitchen currently maintains a staff of more than 10 refugee and immigrant chefs — two from Afghanistan — employed through the organization’s catering program. 

Central to the organization’s organizing beliefs, said Program Director Quynh Tran, is to use food as a way to connect those refugees with the broader community. 

“Sharing a meal and sharing stories is a genuine way to acceptance and welcoming people,” Tran told the News. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, Sanctuary Kitchen has run a curbside pick-up service, with meals cooked by refugee and immigrant chefs.  

Tran also hopes to remain active in spreading local awareness over the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, a situation which she said has left her “heartbroken.” Collaborations between Sanctuary Kitchen and IRIS, which included a virtual fundraising dinner last month, have helped stimulate local conversation on the crisis abroad and resettlement efforts in the city. 

According to Tran, Sanctuary Kitchen hopes to host community building events, like cooking lessons, and is encouraging New Havners to donate to IRIS or volunteer with Sanctuary Kitchen in the coming months. 

Sanctuary Kitchen was founded in 2017.