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UMD Welcomes Afghan Refugees to University Residences

Collaboration With International Rescue Committee Is Developing New Model for Public Universities

By Maryland Today Staff

Woman packs welcome bags

Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, director of the Office of Community Engagement, assembles bags of UMD-themed gifts from OCE, the Office of the President and the Alumni Association to share with Afghan families arriving in coming weeks to temporarily live in university housing.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

As part of a groundbreaking new partnership with the nonprofit International Rescue Committee (IRC), the University of Maryland is now aiding in the temporary housing of refugee and evacuee families from Afghanistan.

The approach to resettlement is first-of-its-kind for a public university. The families to be hosted at UMD include Afghan humanitarian parolees evacuated through Operation Allies Welcome, as well as Special Immigrant Visa holders—all of whom faced the risk of persecution and violence in Afghanistan due to their work alongside U.S. personnel in jobs such as translators, drivers and cultural advisers.

“The University of Maryland is part of a global community, and when we have the opportunity to support humanity, we embrace it,” said university President Darryll J. Pines. “We look forward to providing on-campus housing and being good neighbors to Afghan families. They are U.S. allies who have braved a terrifying situation, and we are happy that we can offer them a welcoming community as they seek permanent housing.”

While higher education institutions have previously used nearby school-owned homes for refugees through programs such as Every Campus a Refuge, and partnered with the IRC and other agencies to place refugee students on their campuses, this is the first time a public university has used its own campus facilities for such a purpose.

“Public education is really about public good,” said Patty Perillo, UMD’s vice president for student affairs. “We are creating the model here at Maryland. We are developing the structure and systems for others to carry forward, helping many more refugees in need.”

The International Rescue Committee has a global staff of 17,000 that helps respond to the world's worst humanitarian crises, including the conflict in Ukraine and the crisis in Afghanistan. It works in more than 40 countries and 20 U.S. and European cities to help people survive, recover and rebuild their lives.

“Innovative community partnerships are key to ensuring that refugees settle in safely, securely, and with hope for the future. We are grateful for the University of Maryland’s welcome of Afghan evacuees, which is reflective of our state’s broader welcoming spirit,” said Ruben Chandrasekar, executive director of the IRC in Maryland.

Over the next few weeks, several families made up of two adults and children ranging from infants to teenagers will begin their stays for up to 12 months. IRC will assist them in securing permanent housing, employment, counseling, education and social services to support their transition to the United States. The families underwent extensive U.S. government processing that included background checks and medical screenings.

UMD provided a welcome meal this week in partnership with Krazi Kebob in College Park, and Dining Services provided food staples, such as canned vegetables, beans, rice and cooking oil. Welcome bags containing UMD-themed items were provided by the Office of the President, the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) and the Alumni Association. And University Libraries is putting together a collection of bilingual books in Dari and Pashto to deliver with snacks, toys and kitchen items later this month.

“We want them to feel that they are a part of Maryland,” said OCE Director Gloria Aparicio Blackwell.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.