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Afghan refugees coming to Utah? What we know so far and how to help

Gov. Spencer Cox lauds ‘outpouring of support’ from Utahns

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An Afghan man carries a girl as he and other refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Virginia.

An Afghan man carries a girl as he and other refugees arrive at a processing center in Chantilly, Va., on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, after arriving on a flight at Dulles International Airport.

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

After Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s letter sent last week to President Joe Biden expressing Utah’s willingness to accept Afghan refugees, there’s been an “outpouring of support from Utahns” ready to help, according to the governor’s office.

It remains to be seen how many Afghan evacuees will come to Utah, but Cox issued a statement Wednesday with an update on what his office knows so far.

“When tragedy occurs somewhere on the other side of the world, Utahns are always quick to show concern and willingness to help out,” Cox said in a prepared statement. “My office has received countless calls and emails from individuals, families, businesses and organizations offering to do something to support the efforts to bring Afghan refugees to Utah. We still do not know how many and how soon Utah may start receiving Afghan refugees, but we want to be prepared for when they do start arriving.”

When refugees begin making their way to Utah, two of the state’s local refugee resettlement agencies will be coordinating the effort, according to Cox’s office.

“What we do know is that any refugee from Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world who comes to Utah will be coordinated through the state’s Refugee Services Office and our two federally contracted local refugee resettlement agencies: Catholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee,” Cox said.

Here’s what we know so far, according to the governor’s office:

  • The U.S. Department of State is in the process of establishing pathways for the resettlement of Afghan refugees in the U.S.
  • The U.S. is evacuating Afghans who have a qualifying relationship with the U.S. They are all flying into the Dulles, Virginia, airport and are being redirected to three military bases: Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.
  • There may be 600 to 850 Afghans who were granted full special immigrant visas and are assured resettlement in the U.S., meaning they can go to final resettlement sites and access full refugee benefits.
  • A second group of refugees was in the middle of completing their visa processing. This group will be taken to military bases to complete their processing. They will also be sent to their final resettlement sites and can access full refugee benefits.
  • A third group of refugees is being called “parolees.” They will also be taken to the military base to be processed. They will be able to apply for asylum. That process currently takes about two years, although officials are discussing speeding up the process. They will be eligible to work. Federal officials are also offering this group reception and placement support, which can cover costs including housing for up to 90 days. After that time they are not eligible for other benefits.
  • All of these refugees coming from Afghanistan have been “allies, aides and, in many cases, put their lives on the line to protect American troops,” Cox’s office said.
  • Refugees with special immigrant visas are able to choose to resettle in places where they have U.S. ties. California hosts about 40% of refugees with those visas. Utah is currently not on federal officials’ list of states where these refugees can relocate.

“While we don’t know how many Afghan refugees to expect at this time, there are refugees coming to Utah from across the world,” Cox’s office said in a news release. “Each brings their own story of struggle and the need to find a new home and build a future in Utah. Donating goods, money and time are all ways to help refugees.”

Affordable housing will be a “critical need” for refugees, as it is for many Utahns, state officials said.

For more information about Utah’s refugee resettlement programs, visit the state’s refugee services office’s website at jobs.utah.gov/refugees.

To help with needs including housing and resettlement efforts, the governor’s office urged Utahns to support Utah’s resettlement agencies. Find out more about how to help at the International Rescue Committee’s website, rescue.org, and Catholic Community Service’s website, ccsutah.org.