SALT LAKE CITY – As the federal government works to resettle almost 80,000 Afghan refugees who have been transported to military bases in the Middle East and Europe after the takeover of their country by the Taliban, Salt Lake City has been identified as one of 19 cities in the United States where these refugees will be resettled. Two local organizations, Catholic Community Services of Utah and the International Relief Committee, are gearing up to accept as many refugees as the government sends them.
Utah has a history of being a welcoming state for refugees – the Beehive State provided a new home for thousands of Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon, and other refugees during the Kosovo crisis and the war in Iraq.
“Our community has helped in the past,” said Aden Batar, CCS migration and refugee services director. “Our religious community stepped up as well and opened their homes, their places of worship to help the refugees. Utah has played a major role in helping those families in the past. I think we are in a better position as well to help the Afghan refugees.”
During the Trump administration, the normal flow of refugees resettling in Utah was severely curtailed. In those years, CCS’ migration and refugee services operated on a very limited basis. In recent months, due to changes in immigration policies by the Biden administration, CCS had begun to expand its efforts. Therefore, CCS anticipates it will be able to accommodate all Afghan refugees who are sent here.
“Our goal is to settle anyone that is sent to us,” Batar said. “We have the capacity to resettle more refugees; Utah usually accepts about 1,300 in a given year. Easily, we can resettle that, without any problem, between the two resettlement agencies.”
This Afghan resettlement process will be very different from the regular processes, Batar said. Normally, refugees are processed prior to arriving in the U.S. but with this emergency situation, the refugees have Special Immigrant Visas, so they will be screened and background-checked when they arrive in Utah. CCS will then perform a thorough assessment of their status and needs.
The number of refugees expected to make their way to Utah is unknown at this time; however, CCS has received word that its first Afghan refugees, a family of six, will be arriving in Utah shortly.
“Nobody knows the total number because right now the information is changing on a daily basis as they are evacuating more people; they are moving people quickly,” Batar said in an interview prior to the Aug. 31 deadline set by the Biden administration to withdraw refugees from Afghanistan.
Most refugees will come with little more than the clothes on their backs and will need a great deal of help getting settled, he said.
CCS is asking Utahns to help wherever they can in the form of providing monetary donations, housing, household items and furnishings or by volunteering to help the refugees get back on their feet.
“When they come to Utah, they are going to need a lot of help; we need a lot of support from the community,” Batar said. “Our community has always been receptive and very welcoming. Utah is one of the states where people volunteer a lot, and our community is always very generous. We heavily rely on our community support.”
“We cannot do the work alone; we need the support of our community,” he added. “We really appreciate it if people can reach out to us and donate.”
To make a financial contribution (Indicate Refugee Crisis for your donation), or for other donations and information, visit www.ccsutah.org/donate.