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White House’s refugee resettlement czar Jack Markell comes to Albany, already home to strong Afghan community

MArk Jack Markell in Albany, December 7, 2021.ell.jpg
Dave Lucas
Jack Markell in Albany, December 7, 2021.

The White House Coordinator for Operation Allies visited Albany Tuesday to learn about the city’s Afghan resettlement efforts.

Former Delaware Governor Jack Markell visited the North Pearl Street headquarters of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Markell was appointed by President Biden to coordinate what is called "Operation Allies Welcome," a directive from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to lead Afghan resettlement on American soil. He has been touring the country to learn more about the best practices for Afghan refugees by state, city and community organizations.

"And it is been, frankly, just incredibly inspiring, said Markell. "That's a word that is used too much but in this case, it is absolutely fitting to see the spirit and the generosity of the American people. And it is obvious that once you get past people who are in politics like me, and you get to the American people, there's no longer blue and red. And it's just about how do we work together on behalf of our country."

The city of Albany has resettled roughly 200 Afghan refugees since the U.S. withdrew the last troops from Afghanistan in August. Markell says he's spoken with Albany business people.

"One local employer has hired 17 Afghans in the last four weeks, which is truly remarkable, said Markell. "We know that the most important thing that we can do is put people on a path to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible."

Mayor Kathy Sheehan thanked city residents for welcoming refugees with open hearts.

"We have a community that is supporting the resettlement of our newest arrivals from Afghanistan, and we stand prepared to ensure that we are doing all that we can to welcome our new families, to ensure that they have access to housing and jobs, and are able to build happy, healthy lives in our city," said Sheehan. "We have benefited so much from the arrivals of families and refugees from all over the world. And we know that we are a place that can provide incredible opportunity, and we continue to work together."

Later in the day, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that $2 million in additional state funding will be provided to help Afghan evacuees acclimate to life in New York, bringing the total state commitment to $5 million.

Jalil Sadat is a student at Bard College who fled Afghanistan during the Taliban takeover and joined Hochul at her announcement.

“It's a pleasure being here to represent the fellow Afghans and also Bard community," Sadat said. "And I'm eternally grateful for the kind of support I have received from Bard College. Because the journey that I had all the way from Kabul, to the states, it's been chaotic.”

Sadat fled Afghanistan carrying only his smartphone, on which he had pictures of his university ID and passport. The college in Annandale-on-Hudson has been helping Afghan students find safe havens to continue their studies at Bard.

Sheehan noted the tight housing situation can challenging, especially during the pandemic. She is reaching out to landlords, in hopes they'll work with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

"You know, those who do have affordable apartments that are available, this is a community that is really supported," Sheehan said. "And you know, it's not just a new tenant, you're providing a family with a home that's really needed, knowing that there are support services behind that family that you can reach out to if you have any questions or challenges. So, you know, I really would encourage anyone who has space available to reach out to USCRI so that we can find homes for these families."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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