Tri-Cities to expect dozens more Afghan refugees by the end of next year

RICHLAND, Wash. — Thousands of Afghans have left their country after the Taliban’s takeover in August and now they call Washington and the Tri-Cities their home.

Our area houses World Relief Tri-Cities, which is southeastern Washington’s only refugee resettlement agency. Its other locations are Spokane, Kent, and Bellingham.

“Between 2010 and 2020, Washington welcomed over 4,000 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Holders. Just this federal fiscal year, Washington has welcomed 348 people from Afghanistan between Oct. 1, 2020 and July 30, 2021. Through Operation Allies Refuge, from July 29 – Aug. 14, 2021, Washington welcomed 160 Afghans to our local communities. Washington anticipates receiving more individuals and families from Afghanistan through this program,” said a statement on the state’s Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance.

The 4,000 SIVs are part of the over 30,000 refugees the state welcomed in that 10-year period, according to this release from the governor’s office.

Just over the past several weeks, World Relief Tri-Cities has welcomed 21 refugees from over the world with”a few” from Afghanistan. But over the next year, the agency is expecting at least 70 more Afghan refugees to arrive here locally.

“It’s not easy for people to leave their home. To leave from wars that you and your family are going to be safer and better off to go somewhere foreign where you don’t even speak the language is a huge decision and it’s often trauma-inducing for folks,” said Director Ken Primus. “The Afghans we’re welcoming now of course, just recently were forced out and recently faced that trauma of eviction and having to flee for their lives and the safety of their family members.”

Primus said because of that, it’s especially important to make the refugees feel welcome at home when they arrive.

Amira Al Salami, the agency’s refugee program specialist, said she knows exactly how the refugees feel.

“I came as a refugee from Iraq and I’m so lucky. I’m blessed by God,” Al Salami said. “This city is really tolerable. I’ve been here for 13 years and I’ve been treated the best. It has a good heart.”

When refugees arrive, the agency takes them to a fully furnished apartment that is paid through the next 90 days. They’re greeted with a hot meal and shown around the neighborhood.

“Then we get them working with the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS),” Primus said.

The agency works with the refugees to get medical insurance, initial health screenings, and make sure they’re caught up on their vaccinations.

They also help provide them with legal, cultural, and employment services.

“Not everyone recognizes that we have an Afghan community here in the Tri-Cities and I think it’s important that we recognize the cultural richness that we have in this community,” Primus said.

To donate financially to World Relief Tri-Cities, click here. The agency is also looking for donated goods like gift cards, houseware like lamps and bedding, and clothing. They are not looking for volunteers at this time.