As Afghan refugees are resettling across the United States, about 100 of them will call Vancouver home within the next six months, according to local resettlement agency Lutheran Community Services Northwest.
Vancouver is one of several cities across the state to resettle Afghans who are fleeing their country since the U.S. withdrawal of troops. According to the U.S. State Department, out of an initial group of 37,000 Afghan refugees, 1,679 will resettle in Washington. Forty-nine members of that initial group will be placed in Vancouver in the next two weeks.
In Washington, the vast majority of refugees are placed in King County, followed by Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane counties, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services.
Some have begun arriving in the Tacoma and Seattle areas, Lutheran Community Services Northwest spokesman Matt Misterek said, but “the wave has yet to hit.” Sometimes, the resettlement agency might have only 24 hours’ notice before a family arrives at the airport.
David Duea, the CEO of Lutheran Community Services Northwest, said resettlement can be a very involved process to help refugees acclimate to a variety of facets of American life. Resettlement agencies work to find them housing, enroll kids in school, connect them with job opportunities or translators, teach them how to navigate public transportation, and even stock their refrigerators with familiar foods.
Since 2009, the national Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has resettled nearly 10,000 Afghans, said President and CEO Krish O’Mara Vignarajah.
“It’s a humanitarian, economic and national security imperative that this resettlement is successful,” Vignarajah said.
The Biden administration has asked Congress for funding to resettle up to 65,000 Afghans through October and 95,000 in the next year.
Washington is receiving the fourth-highest number of Afghan refugees out of the initial group nationwide. California will see 5,200 refugees, while 4,400 will go to Texas and 1,800 will go to Oklahoma, according to State Department data reported by The Associated Press. Oregon is slated to welcome 180 refugees.
Officials use a “complex algorithm” to determine placement for refugees, Vignarajah said. They consider whether a refugee has any family ties in the U.S., the affordability of housing in different areas and the availability of resources, among other factors.
Although many community members have reached out about ways they can help, including offering to house refugees in their own homes, Duea said the goal is to find long-term housing for refugees that sets them up for a future in the cities they relocate to.
Lutheran Community Services Northwest is ramping up staff and resources to prepare for the refugees.
Some Afghans who aided the U.S. military are coming with Special Immigrant Visas. However, most of the refugees are coming to the U.S. on a humanitarian parole basis and are those considered vulnerable to being targeted by the Taliban, such as activists, academics, journalists or humanitarian aid workers.
“We know who these people are when they’re coming in, and they’re trustworthy and they have been through every type of interview and background check that you can imagine,” Duea said. “You’re hearing a lot about the Afghan community right now, but that’s true for all, when we have refugees coming from the Congo or other areas as well.”
Between October 2020 and July 2021, Washington welcomed almost 350 Afghan refugees. Between July and September of this year, another 332 settled in Washington. Vignarajah said those numbers mean Washington has become a leading state in welcoming refugees.
In 2020, Washington received the second-highest number of refugees for settlement, behind California, according to the State Department.
“It’s a very welcoming state, and Vancouver has a long history of successful refugee resettlement,” Duea said. “You will see refugees all over, having good jobs, paying taxes and being part of our community.”
Those who want to help can donate at lcsnw.org. Duea said the website often lists anything the refugees are in need of at a particular time.