Refugee resources: One group's mission to help immigrants in Northeastern and Central PA
Over the last year, many people in the United States have started paying more attention to refugees. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Taliban’s 2021 offensive in Afghanistan are just two recent high-profile examples.
However, those from other parts of the world, like Nepal, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have also been forced out of their homes and sometimes out of their home countries altogether.
According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, the United States resettled less than 12,000 refugees in 2020. That’s down from the roughly 200,000 refugees that we welcomed in 1980. President Joe Biden has pledged to change that downward trend, and last year increased the refugee limit to 62,500.
Last May, the United States withdrew the last of its troops from Afghanistan. As a result, the Taliban, the militant fundamentalist group, quickly moved toward the capital city of Kabul, and many Afghans left their homes for safer conditions. Scranton was one of seven cities in the state that the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services worked with to provide assistance for Afghan refugees.
Now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine soon entering its eighth week, and more than 4.5 million people having already fled the country, fundraisers and resources for refugees have dramatically increased worldwide.
How is northeastern and central Pennsylvania handling forced displacement and refugee resettlement in recent years? And what resources are those who arrive in our region able to receive?
Jody Lantz is the executive director of Thrive International Programs and in Williamsport. The organization’s immigration legal services program was recognized by the Department of Justice and started toward the end of 2017.
“The number of people we’ve served in our immigration legal program has nearly doubled each of the last two years,” Lantz said. “In 2021 we served 169 clients. They came from 46 different countries.”
Lantz and her organization provide legal services to a wide range of northeastern and central Pennsylvania, not just Williamsport and Lycoming County. Lantz said Thrive International Programs started out small, but grew to include many surrounding counties.
“We really look at assisting community members from State College through northeastern PA and the Lehigh Valley, so we kind of cover that quarter of the state,” she said, adding, “especially in the cities but also the more rural areas throughout.”
Last year, Lantz said Thrive International had a bit of a surprise.
“I don’t think at the beginning of 2021 we would’ve expected the opportunity to serve so many folks from Afghanistan,” she said, adding that her organization began helping several families beginning in August.
Lantz said people who are forcibly displaced from other regions might not be getting as much coverage, but wished Americans show empathy for them as well.
“We would hope that not only for the ones that are making headline news… but also for folks who are in our country from similarly devastating conditions from other countries as well, whether it’s Haiti, Cuba, [or] Eritrea,” she said. “That this might be a way to start, and that it’ll continue and be a benefit to more diverse members of the community.”