ST. LOUIS – Refugees from Afghanistan are set to arrive in St. Louis Tuesday, to seek refuge from their home country of Afghanistan, which has been taken over by the Taliban.
The timing and how many refugees are on their way to St. Louis at this time is not clear.
The International Institute of St. Louis is the region’s largest refugee resettlement agency and is leading the effort to welcome up to 1,000 refugees.
President and CEO of IISTL, Arrey Obenson said they do not have an exact number on how many refugees St. Louis could welcome.
Obenson said on Tuesday St. Louis was added to a list of 19 cities ready to welcome Afghan refugees. The list was put together by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
Obenson said refugees will be able to pick from this list and decide where to go.
“The history of this city has told us that when we welcome immigrants into the community, it brings a certain vibrance, which leads to economic growth and prosperity,” Obenson said.
On Tuesday, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and County Executive Sam Page issued a joint statement welcoming Afghan refugees with Special Immigrant VISA’s into St. Louis communities.
“We were thrilled to have the support of our elected officials,” Obenson said.
He said since 2018, St. Louis has already welcomed 296 Afghans with Special Immigrant VISA’s. He said already having an Afghan community can draw in more refugeed to the Gateway City.
“There is an existing Afghan community here, which is one of the benefits and one of the reasons we will attract Afghans because there is an existing community,” he said.
When a refugee comes to St. Louis, the IISTL is ready to provide them with the tools they need in a new country including, “housing, it includes furnishing those houses, it includes job opportunities, so working with employers locally to provide jobs,” Obenson said.
Marine Corps Veteran Pete Lucier, who was deployed in Afghanistan said the events unfolding in Kabul are difficult to watch and understand.
He said welcoming Afghan refugees into St. Louis is a way to give back and support the veterans that served in Afghanistan.
“They’re coming with the clothes on their back, you know, and what they could carry out of their homes and what they could fit onto a C-17, with 800 people on it, that’s not a lot,” Lucier said.
“They’re going to need things when they get here. And I think we owe them that.”
Tom Duff, ST. Louis Counseling Executive Director, and a licensed clinical social worker said as most St. Louisans are going home at night to their own place and their own bed, in a familiar place, these refugees are in a brand new community and nation.
He said to welcome refugees, the best thing people can do is offer support.
“I think we have to do our best to appreciate where they’re coming from, ask questions. It goes back to comfortability, and what would make them comfortable?” Duff said.
“Feelings of anxiousness, worry, depression, those are real for everybody. We just we deal with them in a different way. So we should expect when we’re assisting immigrants and refugees, that they have a full range of emotions just like we do, and the best thing we can do is, is offer support and a listening ear if we can.”
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