A little over a month after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the White House began briefing governors and refugee coordinators from states across the country on Wednesday on the number of some 37,000 newcomers in the first group of arrivals to be resettled in the United States who are expected to be resettled in their states.
Iowa is expected to welcome 695 Afghans evacuated from this first wave as their home country has descended into chaos and violence in recent weeks.
The group are among more than 100,000 Afghans who have managed to leave the country and escape the Taliban, who have been described as brutal and have in the past been scarred by beatings, executions and a lack of rights to the women.
Many people stranded in Afghanistan are desperate to flee.
August 31 marked an official withdrawal of US troops from the country, ending a two-decade war – but not before dozens of Afghans and 13 US servicemen were killed in a suicide bombing by Islamic State in Kabul airport.
Since then, chaos has continued across the country. Afghans already in Iowa watched the news from their home country in horror, fearing for their families still in the country and scrambling to get them out.
A family had previously fled to Iowa the same week the Taliban entered Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, said Laura Thako, development associate at the local Des Moines office of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. .
But since then “not much has changed,” said Kerri True-Funk, director of the organization. She said the field office continues to prepare for Afghan arrivals, which includes coordinating with local landlords to help find homes once the Afghans arrive.
The field office, however, was not informed of any upcoming arrivals on Wednesday afternoon, True-Funk said, adding that it can often take a long time for Afghans to go through selections, interviews. and background checks required to enter. the country.
Governor Kim Reynolds previously indicated Iowa is “on board and ready to go” to welcome Afghan refugees.
Alex Carfrae, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Social Services, said on Wednesday the refugees would be heading “to major populated areas of the state where there are resources, jobs and support systems for them.” .
These would include places such as the metro areas of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, he said.
The Iowa Department of Social Services said in a statement that it is working closely with several agencies to coordinate the resettlement of Afghan refugees in Iowa.
“Our state has a long history of welcoming refugees from all over the world, and the Department’s Office of Refugee Services looks forward to helping coordinate the arrival of the new Iowans. Our resettlement partners have the capacity to settle around 350 people in the short term, ”the statement said.
The agency said it was working to prepare newcomers, including coordinating with business and employers as well as faith-based and community service organizations.
Iowa has already resettled 140 Afghan special immigrant visa recipients since 2014 and 84 since 2017.
These visas are granted to Afghan translators and interpreters who have worked with the US armed forces.
Reynolds did not say how many refugees the state could expect to resettle this year.
Non-governmental organizations in Iowa are also preparing for the arrival of Afghan families.
The local Des Moines office of the U.S. Committee on Refugees and Immigrants was already bracing for an overall increase in refugee populations after Biden raised the refugee admission ceiling, Thako previously said. He began to accept cash donations and basic necessities, such as beds and furniture.
The agency has also started working with property managers and local owners to get potential families settled in quickly.
Thako said the office expects about 300 refugees from all countries to resettle in Iowa in the coming year. The office also expects 40 more people to relocate to Iowa on special immigrant visas.
Organizations that work with refugee communities claim that formal resettlement services only last a few months, which is why it is important to provide services beyond resettlement.
“It is essential to build the capacity of the refugee community in the interior,” said Henny Ohr, executive director of the Burma Ethnic Minority Defense and Resource Center.
Ohr said his organization is keen to help with community organizing and leadership development, so that newly resettled Afghan families can eventually form their own self-help groups.
EMBARC also plans to expand its programs to Afghan families upon arrival in Iowa, including on-the-job training, employment and economic self-sufficiency, Ohr said.
Other organizations are also mobilizing.
Lutheran Services in Iowa “stands ready to welcome and expand support services for individuals and families arriving in Iowa from Afghanistan,” said Bethany Kohoutek, vice president of marketing and communications.
This organization offers ESL courses, citizenship courses, refugee specific mental health and wellness services, business and career development programs, financial literacy and other services.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.