Peter Lucier ’08 met his colleague, Hugh, at the bustling Sameem, an Afghan restaurant located in The Grove district of St. Louis. That’s when they first discussed this case, and that was two weeks ago. Two weeks might as well be an eternity when there’s so much on the line.
Then Lucier’s phone buzzes. He picks it up to find several photos forwarded to him by Hugh. He squints at each one, gives himself a moment to process and then breathes a sigh of relief.
Smiling back at Peter is a family of five – a mother, father, daughter and two sons - the youngest, only nine-years-old. The “selfies in Qatar” are the proof he’s been waiting for: this family, one that Peter and Hugh have tried their best to assist, has been safely evacuated from Afghanistan.
For Peter Lucier, this is a rare moment of solace among the usual frustration, disappointment and even mayhem. When he completed his military service, which included a tour in Afghanistan from 2011-2012, Peter still felt called to fight. But this fight would be altogether different than any he endured as a Marine. Lucier’s next call-to-arms would be on behalf of social justice.
His comrades these days are no longer fellow ‘boots on the ground’ but rather, likeminded volunteers for non-profit organizations supporting veterans and, more recently, assisting refugees seeking asylum after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
“The situation in Afghanistan is a desperate humanitarian crisis,” says Lucier.
To combat this, Peter volunteers with Team America Relief (TAR), “a group of citizen liaison volunteers who support ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan.” Through TAR, Peter utilizes contacts made during and since his military tenure to help expedite refugee case processing. To date, TAR has helped secure over 1,000 refugee evacuations. Despite this, the organization still has over 40,000 active cases.
But civilian evacuation is only the first step. Once refugees leave Afghanistan, they need somewhere to resettle and the resources to start a new life.
To address this, Lucier volunteers with the International Institute of St. Louis (IISTL). Among other services, IISTL assists with seeking housing for refugees arriving in St. Louis, and according to Lucier, the situation locally is just as dire as overseas.
“In just one week last November, IISTL received 157 arrivals,” says Lucier. “That’s a nearly impossible number of people.”
Lucier explains there simply isn’t enough permanent housing to meet the sudden influx, resulting in resettling agencies placing families in hotels or other temporary housing for the time being.
This isn’t merely a logistical issue but one that also results in ballooning expenses. While the federal government does provide refugees with housing grants, any funds spent on temporary housing (as some agencies have resorted to) would potentially leave families with little to no financial assistance toward eventual permanent housing.
“IISTL has tried their best, and I’m proud of this,” Peter states before pausing to collect his thoughts, “to not use any federal funds to pay for the temporary housing and hotels, but that money [for temporary housing] has to come from somewhere.”
Lucier and other volunteers with IISTL began rallying the St. Louis community for support. Assistant Dean of Students, Dan Schulte ’93 and Ismael Karim ’22 responded to this call by organizing a fundraiser at St. Louis U. High in September of 2021. This community effort culminated in a donation of over $5,000 for local Afghan refugees.
“The donations from SLUH families are making a real difference,” Lucier explains. “It’s making it possible to safeguard the government funds so that when these families can move into permanent housing, they’ll have all the federal dollars available to put towards apartments of their own.”