The people resettling refugees in and around Denver were busy before the American government withdrew their military from Afghanistan, but they expect it to have more to do.
“We wait and watch,” said Jennifer Wilson, executive director of the Denver office of the International Rescue Committee. “We had gotten an increase in Afghans in the last few weeks – actually all refugees, but especially Afghans in the last few weeks and we were preparing for a few more.”
But Wilson doesn’t know how many. She said “tens of thousands” of Afghans might be eligible, but the well-documented backlog of visa applications and the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul have complicated who can come here and when. On Wednesday afternoon, Taliban troops blocked the city’s airport after initially leaving a few flights.
“We urge the government to ensure that we continue to focus on those who supported the US mission and who are eligible for special immigrant visas to maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan so that we can ensure that those who have protection should be granted access to it, ”said Wilson.
Between October 2020 and July 2021, Afghan immigrants made up more than 40 percent of “newcomers” to Colorado, or people who came to the state as refugees and on special immigrant visas issued to interpreters who worked for the US military. according to the Colorado Department of Human Services.
People from Afghanistan made up by far the largest group of the newcomers. Denver and Colorado Springs both have growing Afghan residents, Wilson said.
But when they get here, some face a whole Denver problem: housing.
“We are facing a housing crisis like almost every other city in the United States, and there is no special assistance or program for refugees,” said Wilson. “You face many challenges.”
It can take people a year to get permanent housing that is affordable, she said. However, case handlers estimate that clients will be given permanent housing between two and four weeks after the relocation authorities are notified of their flight to Denver.
Wilson says the International Rescue Committee and the other major resettlement organizations, the African Community Center and Lutheran Family Services, are getting “creative” when it comes to accommodating people who often come without a Social Security number or credit rating. The agencies are essentially dependent on nice landlords and property managers, said Wilson.
Another challenge new (and existing) Afghan refugees might face is reuniting with their families, said Atim Otii, director of the Denver Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, which supports resettlement agencies among other things.
Otii has supported the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund, which helps refugees and other immigrants overcome legal hurdles and bring family members into the country.
“They may need certain immigration procedures to try to help their family members who are either in Afghanistan or likely in other countries to get into the United States,” Otii said. “And in most cases we would say that you should have a competent legal service provider to help you with this process.”
The fund has helped about 470 people so far, Otii said.
While many Afghan refugees have made their homes in the city itself, Otii said they are dispersed across the region and the state.
And wherever they land, they face great uncertainty. Jobs, schools, language – everything is different and new, said Wilson. And it’s not an idyllic American dream situation. It’s a survival situation.
“We will work long-term to help you pass this point because ultimately we want people to thrive and be able to contribute whatever they know, what they have to bring and give to their communities and our state Country, but it’s not an easy path, ”she said. “I think it’s an interesting thing when people stick with the people who come here and try to take chances or use the system what they can.
“It really is – it’s a tough experience. Nobody will ever tell you that it is easy to relocate and rebuild your life. Safety is the most important thing. “
What can you do to help
Here are some things that relocation agencies and others recommend:
Volunteer to help people get to know their new city and neighborhood. For example, cultural mentors can help people understand their bills or their bus routes – basic everyday things that are not always easy. Lutheran Family Services, the African Community Center, and the Denver International Rescue Committee all have programs.
“That’s a big need,” said Wilson. “And we know that it helps the refugees to integrate and to come to the place where they feel at home.”
They can also provide food and other, less extroverted items.
Donate money to the Denver International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, and / or the African Community Center.
Donate to the Denver Immigrant Legal Services Fund.
Check out Colorado Refugee Connect for more ideas.
This article has been updated to clarify that it can take a year to create permanent affordable housing as opposed to permanent housing only.