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Kansas City’s Mayor Invited Afghan Refugees To Resettle Here. Some Have Already Arrived

A man holds a certificate acknowledging his work for Americans as hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday.
Associated Press
A man holds a certificate acknowledging his work for Americans as hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday. Afghans fleeing their country may be heading to Kansas City after being vetted once they arrive at one of the United States military installations where they will be screened and given medical attention.

Local and Missouri agencies have already welcomed some refugees from Afghanistan in recent weeks, but they expect more to flee as the Taliban takes over the country following the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

As U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban retook controlof the country, Mayor Quinton Lucas on Monday tweeted that Kansas City was ready to receive refugees.

“Kansas City would proudly accept refugees from Afghanistan who have served bravely by our side over the past generation,” Lucas wrote. “And, we have space for many who have not been able to serve, but who seek freedom to learn, vote, work, and have the equal rights our country offers for women and men.”

By the time Lucas made his invitation, Kansas City had already welcomed several families fleeing Afghanistan and the Taliban, and more are expected to arrive in the coming months.

Della Lamb Community Center and Jewish Vocational Services are two agencies in Kansas City who receive refugees through the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Della Lamb resettled two families in the past 60 days and Jewish Vocational Services received one family last week.

“So we've worked with about, I would say 15 or 20 in the last couple of months,” says Jewish Vocational Services executive director Hilary Singer. “But we are anticipating getting, hopefully, a whole lot more folks who are able to make their way to safety.”

JVS and Della Lamb are the primary organizations in Kansas City for resettling people with Special Immigrant Visas — immigrants who worked as translators, interpreters or other professional roles for the U.S. government in Afghanistan or Iraq.

“They come here because they've qualified for Special Immigrant Visa status, which means that they have verified that they have provided support to U.S. troops, either as an interpreter or an engineer or security personnel, something like that,” Singer says. “And because of that affiliation, their lives are in danger.”

Some of these refugees may eventually show up to Kansas City on their own, while some are placed here by the U.S. State Department, says Paul Costigan, the senior vice president for operations and Missouri refugee coordinator at the International Institute of St. Louis.

Costigan says that since 2016, Missouri has received 615 Special Immigrant Visa applicants. Between last October and July 31, 2021, the state welcomed 51 of those applicants and their family members.

A long road ahead for refugees

For new Afghan refugees, though, it may take more than a year before they reach a new home.

Singer says many of the refugees being airlifted out of Kabul are being processed through Fort Lee, Virginia, where they’re provided with temporary shelter, food and health services.

From there, approved refugees will be relocated by nongovernmental agencies around the country. For example, Catholic Charities in Kansas City, Kansas, handles refugee resettlement in Wyandotte County.

Ryan Hudnall, executive director at Della Lamb, said there’s a lot of uncertainty right now in the vetting process, so agencies like his are preparing however they can, so that they’re ready by the time refugees get to Kansas City.

“I think what we can do locally is know that there will be refugees from Afghanistan who are coming, prepare for that, build up our language competencies, our cultural orientation competencies, and certainly we can offer our thoughts and prayers for them,” Hudnall says.

Once refugees get settled here, the agencies don’t leave them on their own. Hudnall said they will help people register for Social Security, find housing and create a path forward for self-sufficiency.

And other local organizations like Refuge KC help not just Afghans but all refugees acclimate to Kansas City’s neighborhoods and culture. Advocates have also been prepping so they can make all new arrivals feel welcome.

“All these people come in with trauma,” says Patty Bergloff, coordinator for programs and volunteers at Refuge KC. “They’re fleeing. They’re fleeing persecution. They’re fleeing violence.”

Bergloff said her organization is committed to offering friendship and education to refugees learning to navigate their new surroundings.

“We work together as a community,” she said. “We call them our new American neighbors.”

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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