SALT LAKE CITY – The state of Utah now has a better timeline for knowing when the first group of Afghan refugees could arrive in the state of Beehive. The Department of Workforce Services office of refugee services said on Friday that refugees could land in Salt Lake City as early as the second week of October.
The state, along with several local agencies and organizations, have been busy behind the scenes trying to coordinate resources, from employment to financial assistance, to access to health care, property and housing.
READ: More than 750 Afghan refugees expected to resettle in Utah in coming months
“We’ve all seen the videos in Afghanistan of people rushing to get to the airport and trying to get out and back,” said Asha Parekh, director of the Utah State Office of Refugee Services.
Parekh said some of the arrivals are humanitarian parolees, who will not have access to federal funds like those on special immigrant visas. This is because the emergency situation in Afghanistan, she said, means that many have left their homes in an urgent rush without having time to complete all documents or complete their legal status.
She said many of the people who traveled to the United States are at various military bases, waiting to pass a medical exam and obtain work permits.
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Meanwhile, offices like Parekh’s are busy planning the arrival of 750 refugees in Salt Lake City.
“The Governor’s Advisory Council has set up three working groups,” she said. “One is to address the issue of housing because we know there is little housing in our state.”
Parekh explained that a task force is focused on securing housing, in what is already a tight market.
“We don’t yet know how this process will work,” she said. “We hope that everything is going well and clean, but we are grateful that the people, these Afghan humanitarian parolees, have suffered trauma.”
Eager to ease this difficult transition, hundreds of homeowners are ready to help.
Paul Smith, executive director of the Utah Apartment Association, said they’ve emailed all of their owners. The response has been overwhelming.
“The owners of more than 20,000 units have already volunteered to work with the refugees,” he said.
Smith said they were still working on the exact logistics, but hoped to use the COVID-19 state aid to pay six months of rent to incoming refugees.
“The State Department said it would give us about a week’s notice,” he said. “We will contact our list of owners and say, ‘Do you have two rooms available at Sugar House? Or, “Do you have a three-bedroom apartment in Utah County?” “And we will identify a unit, I hope it will be ready by the time the refugees get here.”
In addition to housing, there are other groups that coordinate specifics to help furnish apartments and find jobs. Parekh explained that healthcare partners like Intermountain Healthcare will provide medical assistance.
She knows how important it will be to have these resources on hold, to make the resettlement process as smooth as possible.
“Being able to help them move into an apartment they can call their own in this new country is going to make a huge difference in their experience,” she said.