Welcoming Afghan Refugees to Minnesota
Promoting collective action to drive change is at the heart of the Minneapolis Foundation’s mission. So, last August, when many of us saw the images of tens of thousands of Afghan citizens fleeing their homeland in fear of the new Taliban regime, we knew we needed to act.
Our staff reached out to colleagues at Minnesota’s Department of Human Services and the Minnesota Council on Foundations to see how philanthropy could play a helpful role in this crisis. Together, we formed Operation Allies Welcome Minnesota, a public-private partnership to raise private dollars for transitional housing and other urgent needs of the Afghan evacuees flowing into our state.
A dozen Minneapolis Foundation fund-holders and partners contributed more than $275,000 to the campaign, including the Edward R. Bazinet Charitable fund, The Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, and the WCA Foundation.
“Strong public-private partnership truly can make an impact. At critical moments when neighbors need our help more than ever, it is meaningful to see so many individuals in our community find a way to come together to change lives. This work is exciting and is making a difference.” — Chris Beach, Senior Vice President for Philanthropic Services
In all, the Operation Allies Welcome fund, which is administered by the Minnesota Council on Foundation, has received more than $1.4 million in contributions from generous individuals and foundations. These flexible resources enabled the Department of Human Services to rent two hotels in the south metro to serve as transitional housing for Afghan newcomers. Additional funds are providing legal assistance to help the new arrivals secure permanent immigration status.
Why was this unusual public-private partnership so critical? Because tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees—people who served as translators, drivers, office staff, and much more for U.S. organizations—were stranded on military bases. States didn’t have the collective capacity to welcome them all in a timely manner. After a traumatic escape from their homeland, many families were now stuck in limbo, waiting to re-start their lives.
Because of the transitional housing funded through Operation Allies Welcome Minnesota, our state was able to increase its resettlement capacity from 750 to 1,400 individuals. These families are arriving right now, eager to send their children to school, settle into new homes, and begin new jobs.
Here’s how Jodi Harpstead, Minnesota’s Commissioner for the Department of Human Services, summed up the importance of Operation Allies Welcome:
“The Minnesota Council on Foundations’ support was just what was needed at the critical beginning moments of Operation Allies Welcome to get it off the ground. On calls across many states, federal officials pointed to the way Minnesota has rallied the private sector to respond to federal efforts and encouraged other states to follow suit.”
As the coordinated fundraising for Operation Allies Welcome winds down, our new Afghan neighbors still face challenges. Over the next six to twelve months, they will need support with legal and immigration services. Each individual or family will need careful help to file successful applications for green cards and eventually citizenship. Advocates for Human Rights is leading this effort and is actively seeking donations to support the expanded services its staff and volunteers are providing.
There also remains an ongoing need for housing assistance. Families use federal resettlement funds to pay for their first few months of rent. As these funds are used up over the next three to six months, they may need additional help until their earnings from work catch up to the high cost of housing. ZACAH is the organization designated by the Department of Human Serivces to coordinate rent assistance. Contributions towards this important need can be made directly to ZACAH.