Around 200-300 refugees from Afghanistan who fled the country during the mass evacuation in late August are likely to arrive in Spokane in the coming months.
Organizations throughout Spokane are gearing up to welcome these refugees. One of these organizations is World Relief Spokane (WRS), a global Christian humanitarian organization aiming to serve those in need. WRS helps refugees and other migrants in vulnerable situations rebuild their lives.
WRS has helped Afghanistan refugees for around 10 years. However, this is the first time it has helped this many people outside of the U.S. military.
Refugees who have been helped in the past typically come through a Special Immigrant Visa Program designed to offer a means of protection for people who have served the U.S. Army for a minimum of two years and whose lives are in danger because of their service to U.S. troops.
In early August, Mark Finney, executive director and head of global refugee resettlement at WRS, volunteered for Operation Allies Rescue in Fort Lee, Virginia. While on his flight there, news broke that the Taliban had taken over the Afghan government, and with no functioning government to work with, the dynamics of rescuing evacuees completely changed.
“We are expecting at least 200 arrivals from Afghanistan,” said Justin Li, the communications coordinator for WRS.
Once these refugees arrive in Spokane, they will be greeted at the airport and provided a meal and a place to stay. The next day, WRS will start building a personalized plan to rebuild and rehouse these people.
Specific services include finding permanent housing, furnishing the home, setting up jobs and signing kids up for school. Each plan is tailored to the individual arriving in the community.
“We teach them how to use public transportation," Finney said. "We help their kids get enrolled in public schools, we help adults access ESL classes, mostly through the community colleges. We make sure that they get the documents they need, like making sure that they get their Social Security card."
These steps are carried out through different teams of people. There is an initial resettlement team, a long-term support with employment team and a legal services office that focuses on green cards and legal status.
The number of arrivals and the specific plan for accepting them at WRS have remained consistent since the dynamic shift in early August.
President Joe Biden, no longer wanting to risk American lives in a civil war among Afghans, followed through with the withdrawal plan signed by former president Donald Trump in February of 2020.
Since the end of July, the U.S. evacuated approximately 122,300 people from Kabul. Some 4,000 American citizens and family members have fled, as well as a limited number of Afghans who obtained special immigrant visas for people who have worked for the U.S. or North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Afghanistan families are also evacuating as they wait for their visas.
American citizens and those with special visas were flown out of Afghanistan to a stopover in Qatar or a different Gulf nation. From there, they were sent to military bases in Virginia, New Jersey, Texas and Wisconsin, where they were housed while applications were completed.
When their documents are ready, they will be resettled elsewhere. Some of these people will arrive to Spokane.
While the scale and speed of this evacuation are unprecedented, the U.S. has a long history of taking refugees in from overseas after conflict. In 1975, at the end of the Vietnam war, the U.S. airlifted around 7,000 people and ended up taking in around 100,000 refugees from Southeast Asia.
Although this country has dealt with airlifts before, there are still many things the community can do to help the incoming refugees.
When asked what GU can do to help, Finney said drives for goods, furniture, cleaning supplies or personal hygeine items are a good way to get involved.
WRS has a website that lists ways that the Spokane community can get involved. Volunteering, advocating, building welcoming kits and donating are all ways to help individuals or families arriving in Spokane.
Spokane has already shown up in donating and supporting these soon-to-arrive refugees.
“A few weeks ago, we put up an ask on our website for three different welcoming kits," Li said. "Basic necessities, school supplies and household items. It has been nonstop. Our office is overflowing with donations.”
Along with WRS, Global Thrift Spokane, a non-profit thrift store focused on aiding refugees living in the community, is currently accepting donations for the incoming refugees. It is accepting clothes, blankets, dishes and more.
More information on Global Thrift can be found at https://gnthrift.com/
To learn more about how to help these refugees, people can visit https://worldrelief.org/spokane/.