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State's first Afghan refugees set to arrive in October

by Stephen Simpson | September 26, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

State's first Afghan refugees set to arrive in October

Stephen Simpson

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Central Arkansas is expected to accept up to 49 Afghan refugees in October and various faith-based organizations are coming together to make the resettlement effort as smooth as possible.

The White House two weeks ago began notifying governors and state refugee coordinators across the country about how many Afghan evacuees from among the first group of nearly 37,000 arrivals are scheduled to be resettled in their states.

Jay Grelen, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office, said Arkansas has been authorized to accept up to 98 Afghan refugees.

"Catholic Charities may take up to 49 in Central Arkansas; they will be resettled within a hundred miles of Little Rock," he said. "Canopy NWA is authorized for 49 in Northwest Arkansas; they will be resettled within 100 miles of Fayetteville."

Grelen said the organizations aren't expecting any refugees until mid-October.

Jennifer Verkamp-Ruthven, director of the Catholic Charities of Arkansas Refugee Resettlement Office, said that once the organization takes in 49 refugees it will evaluate and take in more people if there is capacity to do so.

"There will be a little bit of lull, then we will add more in the coming months or weeks, just like the organization in Northwest Arkansas," she said.

The Afghan evacuees go through a Department of Homeland Security-coordinated process of vetting before being admitted. And every evacuee who comes into the United States also goes through health screening. Evacuees who are 12 and older are required to get the coronavirus vaccination as a term of their humanitarian parolee status after entering the country.

The Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Office provides services and assistance to refugees, asylum-seekers, special immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan, Cuban parolees and victims of trafficking.

Verkamp-Ruthven said the diocesan offices work closely with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Migration and Refugee Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement. She said the office receives refugee cases from the federal government and they are sent out to diocese agencies across the country who get to say yes or no to each case.

"Right now we were just given five official cases, which were 31 individuals," Verkamp-Ruthven said. "What we are doing is dividing these cases among sponsor teams. These sponsor teams are volunteers from the interfaith community. This includes Catholic, Jewish, Presbyterian, mosques all having six to eight people teams willing to assist in this effort."

Verkamp-Ruthven said the sponsor teams pretty much adopt the family sent to them, meaning the teams will provide temporary housing, clothing and food.

"They will also reach out to their congregation for help," she said. "We oversee to make sure things are happening and they are doing what they are supposed to do. We also do home visits as well."

Verkamp-Ruthven said the amount of volunteers and support has been overwhelming.

"It is definitely a communal effort," she said.

Verkamp-Ruthven said the Catholic Charities of Arkansas Refugee Resettlement Office is also looking to accept monetary donations since Afghan refugees will not qualify at this moment for all the public benefits a typical refugee would receive.

Afghan evacuees won't be eligible for food stamps, cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, Medicaid or other traditional refugee services that are funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Currently, each Afghan evacuee is to receive $1,225 to help with rent, furniture and food and provide a small amount of pocket money, according to The Associated Press.

Verkamp-Ruthven said the organization also will be assisting in the employment effort as well.

"A big role of the resettlement effort is finding them employment," she said. "Typically within 30 days you want to find employment."

The organization also will be working with school districts to enroll the refugees.

"We actually are required to enroll them into school within 30 days," Verkamp-Ruthven said. "We haven't really been in touch with the Little Rock School District yet, but a lot of kids are coming. The majority of the refugees are children. We have had one Catholic school offer to take a couple of students, but I am sure most of them will end up in the Little Rock school system."

Print Headline: State's first Afghan refugees set to arrive in October

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