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Culture Investigations

Afghan Refugees Claim Lutheran Social Services Failed to Deliver Promised Resettlement Services

The U.S. State Department is investigating claims that Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, a refugee resettlement agency in the Washington D.C. region, has mistreated Afghan refugees.

Sources told U.S. News and World Report that some employees of Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area not only failed to deliver on promises to provide food, housing, and other services but also falsified paperwork, stole funds, and mishandled sensitive documents while receiving large bonuses. 

Agencies that contract with the government to provide refugee services are given $2,275 per person to provide safe housing, food, clothes, and money for emergency expenses, and are required to perform two home visits with refugees within 30 days of arrival, and to assist them with any other needs they have. 

But some Afghan refugees told the magazine they were living in poor conditions, had trouble reaching their caseworkers, and in many cases had never been visited by a caseworker. 

They described caseworkers as “inexperienced and overwhelmed” and said they often failed to follow through on the process of obtaining the government documents required to work or receive benefits in the United States. 

Some complained of late-arriving rent checks and inappropriate, unfurnished, or unsanitary housing, including one family housed in an extended stay hotel with bedbugs. 

Sources told U.S. News that refugees were treated worse by staff members, many of whom are well-educated Afghans, if they were less educated or spoke a different first language, and treated better if they had strong U.S. ties or were relatives of staff members.

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Lutheran Social Services NCA said it had worked with an accounting firm and a law firm to investigate the allegations and that its parent organization also had examined the complaints and that both found no evidence of wrongdoing.

A State Department representative told U.S. News the agency could not answer specific questions about the case but that the agency saw little cause for concern, and that proportionally, complaints were few.

“Every time we follow up, we have not found negligence, we have found that there are some unrealistic expectations,” the spokesperson said. 

A 2021 third-party financial audit reviewed by the magazine showed no financial misconduct.  

The U.S. government has spent nearly $1.5 billion on refugee resettlement in the past year, with $221 million going to Lutheran Social Services’ parent organization Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which has resettled more than 12,000 Afghan refugees in the United States. Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area has resettled more than 4,500 Afghan refugees.

“We are committed to serving our community with excellence,” the agency said in a statement to U.S. News, adding, “we welcome and respond to all concerns brought to our attention.”

Photo: Evacuees from Afghanistan disembark from a U.S. Air Force plane at the naval station in Rota, southern Spain, on Aug. 31, 2021. (AP Photo/ Marcos Moreno)

Anne Stych

Freelance writer, copy editor, proofreader and content manager. Science, technology, retail, etc. writer, ACBJ BizWomen.