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Partnership is key to welcome Afghans to Utah

Since late September, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City has welcomed more than 190 individuals from Afghanistan who have arrived through the Afghan Placement & Assistance Program (APA) as Humanitarian Parolees. With community volunteers and partners, the IRC in Salt Lake City is mobilizing to provide culturally- appropriate, linguistically-accessible and context-specific services and support for the growing Afghan community in Utah. 

Joshua Lloyd, deputy director of programs, explains that many Afghans who would otherwise qualify for other immigration pathways have arrived to the U.S. under the Humanitarian Parolee status, given to expedite the evacuation process receive the same resettlement services and support as traditional refugee arrivals and are authorized to work and stay in the U.S. for two years. The pathway to permanent residence is not currently clear for Afghan Humanitarian Parolees beyond the first two years; however, the Afghan Adjustment Act, a proposed bill that has not yet been passed by Congress, would allow eligible Afghans to apply for permanent residency and ultimately provide a pathway to U.S. citizenship.  

A family of two adults and five children smile in front of the entrance to their new home.

This newly arrived family was among the first of the Afghan Humanitarian Parolees to sign a lease for their new home in Utah.

Photo: Mikaela Herman/IRC

To serve Afghan Humanitarian Parolees, the IRC in Salt Lake City has brought in additional staff members and trained committed volunteers who are dedicated to ensuring all families’ needs are met, Josh says. “It’s been a very visible element of our work in terms of that evacuation and then the interest in our community here in supporting that. That has been an inspiring and great thing to see.”  

The local Afghan community and other supportive community partners have provided integral and ongoing support during the initial welcoming phase, from helping to deliver groceries to ensuring all new arrivals receive a warm halal meal on their first night in Utah. Among these community partners, the Utah Muslim Civic League has offered significant support, helping the IRC in Salt Lake City better connect newly arriving families to culturally-appropriate resources. 

Luna Banuri, executive director of the Utah Muslim Civic League, explains that the organization has been closely working with the existing Afghan community in Utah since the beginning of the crisis. “Our work began with trying to service the current community first,” she says, noting that her organization anticipates serving an even larger number than Utah’s expected 765 new arrivals because many green card holders and citizens are returning to the U.S. These people do not qualify for resettlement services, but they are still starting a fresh, Luna explains.  

To ensure all community members have the support they need, the Utah Muslim Civic League sprung to action. “We actually created emergency funding at the level that IRC provides to its clients, but for the ones that don’t qualify for IRC services,” Luna shares. “We’ve also been helping the IRC from the beginning understand the cultural norms.” Luna says that although the Utah Muslim Civic League membership represents a multitude of ethnicities and backgrounds, their faith has united community members to mobilize in support of the arriving Afghans.  

Both Josh and Luna note that the process to resettle and support the Afghan community in Utah is a marathon, not a sprint. “We are trying to engage community forces as quickly as we can, but it does take some time,” Josh says. He urges community supporters to consider monetary donations and long-term support over the next few months, but to also help new community members integrate. “If you see someone who is clearly new to our community or doesn’t speak English,” Josh says, “help them, support them, and just say hello and let them know that there are members of the community that are happy that they are here.”  

The IRC in Salt Lake City has welcomed over 190 refugees and humanitarian parolees since the beginning of the fiscal year in October compared to only 135 refugee arrivals welcomed in the preceding year. In the coming months, the IRC in Salt Lake City anticipates the number of refugee and Afghan Humanitarian Parolee arrivals to remain steady or increase to greater number. You can support our efforts and ensure a warm welcome for our newest neighbors by making a one-time gift or starting a monthly contribution to our Utah Welcome Home Fund. Give today at Rescue.org/WelcomeHomeUtah »