With the Aug. 31 deadline now expired for extraction of people from Afghanistan, the United States has turned to addressing the immediate needs of refugees arriving stateside at military bases. New Jersey was among the states that volunteered to accept refugees, transporting them to its Joint Base Mc-Guire-Fort Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County.

The Catholic Church, particularly in the U.S., has been “involved in the reception and establishment” of those seeking safe haven, participating in the effort with other faith-based aid groups and organizations such as the International Rescue Committee, said Bill Canny, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services for the USCCB.

Marlene Lao-Collins, executive director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, said that the branch has been working directly with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services for direction as to what is needed at this time.

“They asked us to help with the immediate need to identify volunteers and attorneys within our staff to help with processing, organizing and coordinating activities for families and children,” Lao-Collins explained.

While some of those fleeing are U.S. citizens, many are refugees who don’t have family members in the country nor have been in the U.S. before and left with little beyond what they could carry.

“These are people who have been persecuted in their countries and they need new homes, their kids need to get into schools, they need to find work,” said Canny in a Aug. 25 telephone interview with Catholic News Service, speaking about the dire situation unfolding by the minute in Afghanistan.

The CCDOT team came up with a Morale, Wellness and Recreation (MWR) program, which will help provide both indoor and outdoor activities at Joint Base McGuire-Fort Dix-Lakehurst, keeping children and families engaged during their time at the base. Translators will be on hand from the U.S. State Department.

“Our program director helped develop a workflow for three classrooms,” Lao-Collins said. “Right now, we’re looking for volunteers that can have some experience working with children – teachers, social workers and catechists are a good example – or to help with logistics.”

Tasks volunteers might be asked to perform would include setting up supplies, administrative tasks, organizing donations, or acting as a “runner” – assigned on demand for things needed immediately.

“Volunteers must go through a process to be cleared to come to the base,” Lao-Collins noted. “They will also need to be able to wear an N95 mask throughout the entire day and must be vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Monetary donations may be made on the CCDOT website. Lao-Collins assured that the website will be updated directly with specific instructions about what the USCCB and CRS determine is needed, and how volunteers can sign up to help in person.

Other New Jersey Catholic Charities have been involved as well – some on the ground with CCDOT and others publicizing the CCDOT’s call to assist refugees, noted Brenda Rascher, executive director of the diocesan Office of Catholic Social Services.

“It’s great to have various [branches] working together,” Rascher said. “For example, Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Metuchen put out an announcement that was published in church bulletins” which linked to the CCDOT website.

“They are each supporting this effort and working with us collaboratively,” Lao-Collins added. “One thing about New Jersey’s Catholic Charities is we are always there for each other.”

Anna Gallagher, executive director for Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., said Aug. 24 on Twitter that Afghans had “risked their lives for us, and we must now make every effort to protect theirs … All politics must remain out of this decision. These are our brothers and sisters, and we must receive them with great dignity and respect.”

For its part, the Church has been helping Afghans as best as it can, given that certain systems to move refugees along, in the U.S., are “still slow and recovering from the previous administration,” said Canny.

The U.S. has been using domestic military bases to process and house Afghan refugees, including at El Paso’s Fort Bliss in Texas, Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Lee in Virginia and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. 

The challenge is that facilities at those military installations have only been put up recently, Canny said.

“We want to make sure we do a review of their legal status. They would only be in the installation for a week and are given assistance with mental health and wellness, if they need it, make sure they’re OK, make sure the kids are OK,” said Canny.

Parishes and Catholic laypeople around the country who want to help can do so in a variety of ways, said Canny.

“The best thing for parishes to do is get in in touch with local Catholic Charities who are involved in the national effort,” Canny said.  “Also, look at what other churches are doing in an ecumenical (effort) to provide refugees, people who are here out of fear for their lives, the best welcome, because they aided our government.”