Of the thousands of Afghan refugees who have arrived in the U.S. since hurried mass evacuations began Aug. 14, several hundred will soon make their way to San Antonio for resettlement. 

A total of 342 individuals from Afghanistan, mostly families, will be arriving in San Antonio possibly as early as Wednesday and continuing for several weeks, said Antonio Fernández, Catholic Charities president and CEO, who made the announcement Tuesday with Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller. 

The archbishop said he was saddened by the situation in Afghanistan and praying for U.S. troops, including those killed during the chaotic evacuation.

“In the interest of justice and peace, these refugees from Afghanistan should be welcomed and integrated in our communities, including right here in San Antonio,” García-Siller said. “We need to support these newcomers. The values of our faith teach us that outreach encounters and authentic dialogue can bring true peace, which the world needs.”

The refugees evacuated in recent days have escaped “total chaos,” said an Afghan man who settled in the U.S. five years ago but found himself trapped there during a family visit after U.S. troops withdrew and the Afghan government suddenly collapsed.

A Catholic Charities employee, he made it out safely a week ago but bears the emotional scars of what he witnessed at the Kabul airport and in the throbbing streets of that city. The San Antonio Report is withholding the man’s name in order to protect the identity of his family members.

On his first attempt to flee, at least 2,000 people were gathered in front of a small doorway into the airport, the man said. “Everyone was trying to climb the door. … It was impossible, impossible to reach that gate, especially when you have your kids with you, your wife. I’m trying to erase all those memories from my mind because it’s not really something that I can live with.”

Like thousands of others, he was desperate to get out and return to San Antonio, fearing that if the Taliban found him and learned his identity, they would threaten his extended family back in his hometown. “Because this is how they can mentally torture me,” he said. 

Catholic Charities’ agreement to provide the Afghan refugees with emergency housing, clothing, and assistance came after an urgent request from the Office of Migration and Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

“Welcoming people from Afghanistan means a lot to us as Catholics,” Fernández said. “In this project, we’re given the opportunity and responsibility to live our faith. We are prepared to provide wraparound services. … These people gave a lot to help the United States. … It is time for us to give back to them.”

J. Antonio Fernandez addresses the media with the announcement of Catholic Charities taking in 342 Afghan refugees following recent Taliban control and the end of a twenty year war with the United States.
Antonio Fernández announces that Catholic Charities will help resettle 342 Afghan refugees in San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Catholic Charities has long overseen resettlement programs on behalf of the federal government, and prior to the current refugee crisis had already agreed to settle 500 special immigrant visa holders between October 2020 and September 2021.

The 342 refugees arriving in the coming weeks push the total to over 800 individuals the organization has committed to help. Catholic Charities is also working with other churches and nonprofits and requesting community volunteers and donations to support the effort, Fernández said. 

Volunteers are needed to welcome the refugees, pack hygiene kits, assist with distributing meals and other items, and coordinate transportation. Sign up to volunteer at the Catholic Charities website, ccaosa.org.

Gift cards for stores such as H-E-B, Walmart, and Target are requested to help the refugees meet basic needs and settle into housing. 

Donations can be delivered directly to Catholic Charities offices at 202 W. French Place and monetary donations can be made online via the organization’s website, ccaosa.ejoinme.org/GS2019.

The Catholic Charities employee plans to assist the resettlement effort after he recovers from his harrowing escape from Afghanistan. He talks on the phone daily with his father and nephew who ask him what he knows about the latest news and evacuation efforts. For now, they are stranded in a lawless and paralyzed country, he said. 

“Frankly speaking, there is no hope unless America helps,” he said. “Otherwise, I have no hope. If my niece who is in law school can’t go to school, then I don’t think there’s any hope.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.