The Afghan Refugee Crisis

Last updated on September 5th, 2022

About the Afghan Refugee Crisis

A Decades-Long Timeline

A bustling town in Afghanistan

This timeline from NPR covers the history of Afghanistan, beginning with the Soviet War and ending with the recent Taliban takeover.

Read A Look At Afghanistan’s 40 Years Of Crisis — From The Soviet War To Taliban Recapture by NPR.

For more detail from the events of 1999 to 2021, read The U.S. War in Afghanistan by the Council on Foreign Relations.

And now, history repeats itself. Despite the Taliban’s claims that they’ve become more moderate, their recent actions do not reflect this. They have already taken violent measures to once again push their extremist ideology.

How Vulnerable Groups are Affected

Taliban leaders claimed they would guarantee women’s rights “within the limits of Islam”, a statement that inaccurately reflected the spirit of Islam towards women’s rights and girls’ education. Since then, the Taliban have heavily restricted women’s access to education, forced them to stay in their homes, removed them from government positions, restricted their rights to protest, and banned them from sports.

The Afghan LGBTQ+ community has been forced to go into hiding as their lives and rights are in grave danger.

Read The Fragility of Women’s Rights in Afghanistan by Human Rights Watch and this article about the LGBTQ+ community in Afghanistan by The Guardian to learn more about these issues.

Who Are the Afghan Refugees in Wisconsin?

Since 2002, Wisconsin has taken in over 16,000 refugees, a middling amount when compared to other states. There have been historically low numbers of Afghan refugees settled in Wisconsin – only 196 from fiscal years 2016-2021. This is of course rapidly changing, with about 850 from the current crisis expected to resettle in Wisconsin in the fiscal year 2022.

Afghan refugees, like all newcomer refugees to Wisconsin, must go through dizzying amounts of processing, security clearance, and medical examinations in order to enter.

Read Wiscontext’s Refugee Resettlement In Wisconsin, By The Numbers for an in-depth look at how Wisconsin works with the US federal government and the United Nations to coordinate these processes.

Refugees raise their hands as part of a pledge
A United States Citizenship ceremony in 2017

How have some of these refugees made it to the United States?

From August through October of 2021, Fort McCoy of Monroe County, near Tomah, Wisconsin took in refugees from Afghanistan who had ongoing visa applications or who already had visas or citizenship.

Afghans needed at minimum a visa in order to enter US territory beyond Fort McCoy. Here are two of the more common kinds related to this crisis:

Special Immigrant Visa (SIV)

This is a special visa awarded to Afghans who served in Afghanistan for the US government or International Security Assistance Force for at least one or two years.

Applicants for this Visa must also be in danger because of the services that they have provided in order to qualify.

On July 30th, 2021, the US government authorized an additional 8,000 visas to help account for the expected influx of refugees.

More information can be found at this Travel.State.Gov page.

Humanitarian Parole Visa

This visa does not come with government benefits that some other refugee visas provide, but is available to a wider audience. Humanitarian Parole requires the following from an applicant:

  • The same documentation that any immigrant moving to the US would have to have and additional documentation for this specific visa.
  • Their family must show that they will have available at least $15,000 either on themselves or from other family members within the US.
  • At least $570 in application fees per person, and additional fees and expenses as they move through the process.

More details can be found at this USCIS page.

What was life like for Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy?

Fort McCoy is a US Army-owned training center that specializes in supporting all US military branches for infrastructure, training, and equipment.
The base temporarily housed about 13,000 Afghan refugees, the last of whom left the fort in mid-February, 2022.

Here is the process that refugees went through once arriving at Fort McCoy:

  • Medical Safety – All refugees went through tests for various sicknesses and were each given the Covid-19 vaccine (among other vaccines).
  • Biometric Screening – Each refugee was photographed and recorded their fingerprints with the government.
  • Supplies – In large part thanks to the kindness of those who donated, Afghan refugees were given culturally appropriate food, clothing, toys, and other various items to suit their basic needs.
  • Shelter – Refugees in Fort McCoy were given temporary housing if they did not have a place to stay in the US or enough money for rent.
  • Religious Services – Citizens and refugees alike shared the right to practice their religions in the US.
  • Transportation – Many refugees had family already in the US and were given rides to return to them.

And one theme resonated throughout their visit, the Afghan folks at Fort McCoy are guests. Referred to as guests, treated as guests, and provided the hospitality guests receive when invited in.

Joe Minney – Tomah’s Leadership relay takeaways from visit to Fort McCoy

The Red Cross, National Guard, Department of Homeland Security, and other organizations assisted in these efforts.

Eventually, some will become naturalized US citizens. Others will remain with a visa or travel to another country, in some cases back to Afghanistan.

‘I have lost my everything’: Afghans grapple with loss, hope as they prepare to leave Fort McCoy
Wisconsin State Journal

Here’s what you should know about Afghan evacuees as they leave military bases like Fort McCoy and are resettled in Wisconsin, across U.S.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

How Can I Help Afghan Refugees in Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has an excellent help guide.

Donate Money

The biggest way to help is to donate directly to local groups assisting various refugee communities in Wisconsin, including recently arrived Afghans. Donate to ODFR to directly support our skill-building program and Home Supply program for refugees.

Other Local Organizations that Accept Financial Donations for Refugees

Donate Clothing

As part of Operation Allies Welcome, the nonprofit organizations Team Rubicon and The Salvation Army organized a clothing donation drives for the Afghan allies who arrived at Fort McCoy.

**Update: Thanks to all who donated clothing to Operation Allies Welcome. This donation drive has ended.**

Other Local Organizations that Accept Clothing Donations for Refugees

Donate Furniture & Goods

Open Doors furnishes apartments for new refugee families with donated furniture, appliances, and household items.

Learn how to donate those items.

This is a crucial and initial part of helping welcome them into a safe, warm, and inviting home as they start new lives here in Madison.

Other Local Organizations that Accept Physical Donations for Refugees


If you are interested in volunteering with one of our teams, please check our events page to attend an upcoming volunteer informational session and/or fill out our volunteer interest form.

Support the Afghan Adjustment Act

Contact your congresspersons and let them know that you support legislation that makes it easier for Afghan refugees to legally remain as residents in our country.

The Afghan Adjustment Act

Hire a Refugee

Are you a business owner and looking to hire?

If you have a potential employment opportunity for a refugee, please contact [email protected].

In 2021, over 700,000 people have lost their homes within the borders of Afghanistan alone. Those who make it beyond the borders of Afghanistan to Wisconsin, to other states, and to other countries are but a very small percentage of those who are victims of war, ongoing conflict, and disruption of services like education and health care. Read Afghanistan Emergency by UNHCR to understand a larger, global view of the crisis.

Icons made by Good Ware, Cursor Creative, and Darius Dan from