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FROM RUSSELL SMITH, CEO OF REFUGEE SERVICES OF TEXAS: “DEAR RST VOLUNTEERS, I’M WRITING TO THANK YOU”

Dear RST Volunteers,

I’m writing to thank you.

In some capacity, each of you is participating in fulfilling the American promise – and the mission of Refugee Services of Texas – to provide open hearts and fresh starts for thousands of new refugee arrivals from Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Refugee Services of Texas has resettled more refugees in a five-month period in our six resettlement communities – 2,480 – than we have in the past three years combined.

In the past six months alone, the United States has welcomed 74,000 Afghans forced to flee their country. This was the largest evacuation since the Vietnam War, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. 

And, the U.S. did so after years of record-low refugee arrivals. For the entire federal fiscal year of 2021, the U.S resettled 11,411 refugees.

This extraordinary accomplishment – resulting in saving thousands of Afghan lives – would not have been possible without the service of volunteers like you.

You are a volunteer in a historic U.S. response to the forced migration of Afghans and other displaced persons who would otherwise likely have faced catastrophic consequences.

But, rest assured, that I know it has not been an easy path for anyone—for the RST staff working tirelessly and at all hours to accommodate new arrivals, or for our volunteers who are on the front lines every day and at often inconvenient times.

In the past, most of our volunteers have been accustomed to a more moderate pace in assisting with refugee resettlement with adequate time for planning, mobilization, and delivery of volunteer assistance through apartment setups, food purchases, and airport pickups – working as partners with our RST staff.

However, today, the sheer numbers of refugees being served in such compressed periods of time – akin to providing disaster relief as opposed to typical refugee resettlement – has resulted in some inadvertent and unanticipated delays, disorganization, and lack of clear communication with some of our volunteers, causing undue frustration.

We are deeply sorry for these issues, and we are working to ameliorate them.

Like refugee resettlement services across the nation, Refugee Services of Texas has had to quickly hire new staff in all six of our refugee resettlement communities. 

In February of 2021, RST had a total of 135 staff members. In February of 2022, RST has 228 staff members – a 69 percent increase in new personnel to meet the demands for services.

As we move forward together as partners during this historic time in administering the U.S. Refugee Admissions program and the Afghan Placement & Assistance program, we’ll doubtless encounter additional unanticipated obstacles. 

But, inspired by the mission we share, and the amazing refugees we serve, we’ll overcome the challenges and prevail.

So, let me tell you once more: Thank you for your volunteer service – and your patience.

-RUSSELL SMITH, LMSW
CEO, REFUGEE SERVICES OF TEXAS
 

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