Two dozen Afghan refugees arrive in Tucson

KMSB News 9-10 p.m. recurring
Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 10:59 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Tucson is now home to a couple dozen refugees who fled for their lives when the US pulled out of Afghanistan this summer ending a 20-year war. The first few families arrived last week, according to Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest.

Since many of the nonprofits helping refugees have limited space, Council Member Steve Kozachik has been accepting donations at his Ward 6 Office. The kitchen area and three other office spaces are now overflowing with furniture, appliances, home comforts, toys, and clothing.

“The community is so far ahead of the federal government that we’ve got a backlog,” Kozachik said.

Kozachik estimates about 25 Afghan refugees from the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) program are now living in Tucson. He says the city is prepared to welcome more than 500.

“The problem is that the federal government is metering them out at about 3,500 a week nationwide,” said Kozachik. “Which means if you do the math; 51,000 at by 3,500, that’s about 16, 17, 18 weeks.”

That’s months spent living on military bases while donations sit idle. On the flip side, Kozachik says refugee resettlement organizations are receiving very little notice of arriving families from the federal government. In some cases, only 24 hours.

“We are readying ourselves for families,” said Dr. Barbara Eiswerth, who founded Iskashitaa Refugee Network. “Every Monday, I contact the refugee resettlement agencies and say, ‘Who is coming? What times? What are their names? What are their languages?’”

Iskashitaa volunteers typically organize welcome parties at the airport, bringing a laundry basket full of goodies, welcome signs, and a bouquet of flowers.

“Even if you can’t speak the language, just waving American flags saying, ‘We want you here’ I think is so critical,” Dr. Eiswerth said.

Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest and the International Rescue Committee oversee the immediate needs of refugees, such as housing and transportation. Ishkashitaa helps with long-term integration.

“To help them continue their English with harvesting programs and develop a new kind of network of people,” Dr. Eiswerth said.

Nonprofits and city leaders alike are blown away by the eagerness to help.

“This community is ready to give a lot, but we need to have more cooperation from our federal partners,” Kozachik said.

Since his office is filling up fast, Kozachik has teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to store and sell furniture and appliances. Half of all proceeds will go towards an Afghan refugee fund. For more information, call 520-230-5323.

Lutheran Social Services has set up an Amazon Wishlist to furnish apartments. To view it, click HERE.

Ishkashitaa is always in need of more volunteers and donations. To help, click HERE.

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