Arizona to get 5th largest number of Afghan evacuees in nation

Sep 17, 2021, 11:30 AM | Updated: 3:26 pm

PHOENIX — Arizona is set to welcome one of the largest numbers of Afghan evacuees who will be resettled in states across the country.

Gov. Doug Ducey’s office was notified Wednesday by the Biden administration that the state is expected to receive 1,610 Afghan evacuees in the coming weeks, Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

A total of 460 will go to Tucson and the rest to the Phoenix area.

The state will get the fifth largest number in the initial group of 37,000 Afghan evacuees who will resettle in the United States.

“Arizona has a long proud history of welcoming people from around the country and around the world,” Karamargin said. “We are willing to do our fair share of welcoming Afghan evacuees once they meet the necessary background checks and health screenings.”

He added the health screenings will include COVID-19 vaccinations and that no exact date was given by the Biden administration of when the first group of evacuees will arrive.

“They have been through a lot at their home country,” Karamargin said. “Hopefully we can make them feel at home here.”

A spokesperson with the Arizona Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) told KTAR News the U.S. Department of State notified them that 1,610 Afghan evacuees will be placed in Arizona through the Afghanistan Placement Assistance Program, which will last through March 31.

Arizona RRP is working with resettlement agencies and nonprofits to assist and coordinate. But it is not directly involved because the Afghan nationals are considered humanitarian parolees.

“Due to federal law, humanitarian parolees are not currently eligible for public benefit programs provided by RRP or the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement,” Tasha Peterson, press secretary for the Department of Economic Security, which oversees Arizona RRP.

“However, we continue to work with organizations throughout the community to generate more support and resources for the Afghan evacuees.”

Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest is one of the four resettlement organizations in Arizona that will welcome Afghan evacuees. The group has been told to expect 28 this week.

“I anticipate that we will receive additional evacuees,” Connie Phillips, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “We have the capacity to accept up to 200 evacuees here in the Phoenix area and 100 in Tucson.”

Phillips said it may be a while before a large number of evacuees make it to Arizona. She explained that’s because they’ll first be sent to states where they have relatives or friends.

“Arizona doesn’t have a very large Afghanistan community, so it may mean that we might not get as many at least during this initial time period,” she said.

Phillips also explained the people coming from Afghanistan are considered evacuees rather than refugees, which changes what benefits they’re able to receive.

“For instance, those coming through the refugee program are able to work from day one,” she said. “The people coming from Afghanistan as evacuees have to apply for a work permit.”

They’re also not eligible for benefits like food stamps but will get up to three months of rent assistance.

Phillips said volunteers and “first friends” who’d like to help the Afghan evacuees as they arrive should contact her organization. A full list of ways to help can be found on the organization’s website.

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Arizona to get 5th largest number of Afghan evacuees in nation