Colorado is expecting up to 2,000 Afghans to arrive over the next six months with affordable housing already becoming a challenge in resettling families who fled Taliban rule when the United States withdrew its military last month.
The crisis galvanized people in Colorado to roll out the welcome mat, including Gov. Jared Polis, who told President Biden the state was ready to accept people who were fleeing the country.
A new nonprofit in Boulder called Colorado Sanctuary held a fundraiser last week at Trident Booksellers & Cafe with proceeds going to the International Rescue Committee in Denver — one of three agencies in Colorado that help settle refugees and asylum seekers.
“I was disheartened and dispirited by the news that was coming out of Afghanistan,” said Gregg Eisenberg, Colorado Sanctuary’s founder. “I couldn’t not do anything any more.”
During the event, 20-year-old Afghan refugee Mosawes Akbari introduced his mother and three of his five siblings before talking about his family’s arrival in Colorado in July.
The Akbari family applied for visas for the United States in 2016, and they were approved just before the Taliban takeover. Akbari’s father had worked for the U.S. government during the war.
“We were one of the lucky families,” he said. “We came at a good time. Now we are safe.”
Ndeye Ndao, asylee outreach coordinator for the International Rescue Committee in Denver, said her agency expects to receive 500 people from Afghanistan through March. That’s on top of the people arriving from other countries torn by wars, famines and other crises.
“We are bracing ourselves,” Ndao said. “All organizations are working together to see how we can support them.”
Pictures from August’s massive evacuations out of Kabul showed hundreds of people squeezed onto airplanes, but those people’s arrival to the United States will be far more methodical.
More than 65,000 Afghans were evacuated by the United States, but they’re being housed all over the world, including Europe, the Middle East and Asia. About 24,000 are waiting at military bases in the U.S. The U.S. is expecting to settle at least 50,000 people. The process for resettling refugees is slow as they are vetted for security and sorted into various legal statuses for immigration.
At the Denver Rescue Mission, which has a refugee family support services program, the nonprofit is increasing its capacity and budget while waiting for more people to arrive.
“Pretty much everybody is waiting,” José Kabeya, program manager, said. “Colorado is waiting, but we are ready.”
The agency helps refugees find housing and get financial assistance for their first month’s rent and security deposits. It also provides refugees with furniture and clothes and connects them with other resources.
Finding affordable housing in the Denver area already is a challenge. Akbari said his family was paying nearly $2,000 a month for an apartment in Northglenn. Ndao said donations are needed to help families afford rent.
Most Afghans will be placed in homes in Northglenn and Aurora where others from that country already are settled, Ndao said. And most will arrive in the United States with few possessions. The Akbari family, for example, left behind their entire home with all of its furniture and their car.
“It’s going to require a lot of lifting,” Ndao said. “It’s going to cost a lot of money and it will take a lot of resources.”
Colorado’s refugee agencies this year have resettled 346 people with 50% coming from Afghanistan, Madlynn Ruble, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services, said. A few evacuees have already arrived in Colorado, including those with family members in the state, she added.
Typically, Colorado settles about 3% of all refugees coming to the country, Ruble said, but it remains unclear exactly how many people will be coming in the next few months.
Most of the people arriving in Colorado will be allowed into the U.S. through two statuses — refugee or humanitarian parole. Those arriving with humanitarian parole status will have temporary permission to stay in the United States because of Afghanistan’s emergency situation and will be eligible to apply for asylum once they are in the country.
While refugees qualify for years of support from the federal government and humanitarian organizations, those with the so-called parolee status do not qualify for those refugee services or other government benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps.
Afghans who worked for the U.S. military also could be eligible for a special immigrant visa, but it could take months for them to qualify because of a backlog. Others who supported U.S. operations in other ways could be eligible to resettle in the U.S. through a new federal program.
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