Looking for ways to help Afghan refugees? Resettlement agencies prepare for surge at Fort McCoy

NOW: Looking for ways to help Afghan refugees? Resettlement agencies prepare for surge at Fort McCoy

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MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin's four refugee resettlement agencies are preparing to help a surge of Afghan refugees.

Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin received the first special immigrant visa applicants over the weekend, and even more will arrive in the coming days.

There are questions about how many refugees will be coming to Fort McCoy and how long they will stay.

"We hear all kinds of numbers being thrown out there, but we really don't know what those numbers are," said Al Durtka, Jr., president and CEO of the International Institute of Wisconsin. "Just because they're coming here doesn't mean they're going to be placed here."

He said it helps if they have ties to the area or a family member located nearby to help "anchor" them.

"Those are individuals who are fearing for their lives in some way, shape, or form and who are coming to us who cannot remain in their country, have to move on," he said.

Durtka said Fort McCoy will act as holding place. The Public Affairs Office said the refugees will get housing, medical and transportation support at the base.

During a briefing on Monday, Aug. 23, the Pentagon said four military installations and Dulles International are receiving Afghans as they come into the United States. 

"In the past 24 hours, five flights landed at Dulles International Airport with approximately 1,300 passengers," said Major General Hank Taylor, deputy director of the joint staff for regional operations.

The installations include Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Lee, Virginia; Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Fort Bliss, Texas.

"With the four bases, what our goal would be is to reach the ability, not necessarily the actual count, but the ability to build out to about 25,000 capacity," said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.

Durtka said once his organization is notified it will receive a refugee, the first step in the resettlement process is to secure housing. So far, the International Institute of Wisconsin has helped one Afghan family of three.

"We had like two days' notice that they were coming here to Milwaukee. It's very, very little time. Now, if you've tried to hunt for an apartment yourselves, how long has that taken?" Durtka said.

He said there are other challenges in the process, such as finding a job, overcoming a language barrier, securing schools for the children and learning the skills refugees need to survive in a new country.

"It could be as simple as: Where do you go buy groceries? How do you use this particular kind of stove ... to how do you use the bus?" he explained.

Anyone looking to help refugees can donate directly to the resettlement agencies. Durtka said monetary donations would be best, and IIW is also looking for people who can volunteer their time to help teach refugees new skills.

Here are links to donate to the four Wisconsin resettlement agencies: International Institute of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Jewish Social Services Madison, Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, Inc. in Milwaukee, and World Relief in Appleton.

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