Valley group ready to welcome refugees fleeing Afghanistan

Aug 27, 2021, 4:35 AM
Refugees from Afghanistan are escorted to a waiting bus after arriving and being processed at Dulle...
Refugees from Afghanistan are escorted to a waiting bus after arriving and being processed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia on August 23, 2021. - Around 16,000 people were evacuated over the past 24 hours from Afghanistan through the Kabul airport, the Pentagon said on August 23, 2021, as the US speeds toward completing its airlift by an August 31 deadline. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — A local resettlement organization is ready to roll out the welcome mat for Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover.

Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest still doesn’t know how many refugees from Afghanistan will come to Arizona.

“We should know more information sometime next week,” Connie Phillips, the group’s president and CEO, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “At this point, the people that are coming into the country are being processed at military bases.”

Her group has been welcoming refugees to Arizona since 1975. It’s one of four resettlement organizations in the state.

They usually get a two weeks’ notice before refugees arrive. But because of the urgency in Afghanistan, it may be much shorter than that.

However, Phillips stressed they have the capacity and will be ready to help.

“As the family arrives, we greet them at the airport with a case manager who speaks their language,” she said. “We will have secured and furnished an apartment so that we can take them straight to their new home.”

Families are connected with co-sponsors or “first friends” who will help them get settled by showing them how to apply for a job, how to enroll their kids in school and how to access transportation.

Phillips said her group will work closely with families for the first 3-6 months but will continue to offer support for up to 5 years.

“We work with them to make sure that they are able to move forward,” she said. “The goal of refugee resentment is self-sufficiency.”

Arizona is among the states that takes in the most refugees. A total of 82,982 have resettled in the state since 1980, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security. That number includes 3,153 refugees from Afghanistan.

Some of the Afghan refugees living in Arizona who’ve been helped by the Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest are reaching back out. They’re worried about their families still living in Afghanistan as the Taliban takes control of the country.

“They are receiving texts and calls from family members who are frightened, who are talking about what they’re seeing,” Phillips said.

Her group has been helping these families place the names of their relatives on a list to be considered for evacuation.

Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest is always looking for volunteers to help refugees resettle, especially now as it waits for those from Afghanistan to arrive.

“The most important thing people can do to help is identify affordable housing,” Phillips said, adding that’s one of their biggest challenge right now.

A full list of ways to help can be found on the organization’s website.

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Valley group ready to welcome refugees fleeing Afghanistan