Alaska News

Up to 100 Afghan refugees to be resettled in Alaska through March

Up to 100 Afghans evacuated from the country in recent weeks will be resettled in Alaska, according to Catholic Social Services, which oversees the Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services program.

The organization announced Monday that between this month and March, 50 to 100 refugees will come to Alaska. None have arrived yet.

It’s a significant increase in the pace and number of people resettled in Alaska compared to recent years, when low caps on immigration and refugees set by the Trump Administration meant as few as 50 people were being placed here annually.

“This is outside the regular refugee resettlement process, this is a humanitarian crisis,” said Lisa Aquino, CEO of Catholic Social Services.

As of last week, more than 31,000 Afghans were in the United States, many of them being processed at military bases, with up 50,000 expected to arrive in the month ahead, according to the New York Times. Federal immigration officials apportion refugees for resettlements in states across the country, working with partner-organizations like CSS that, in general, try to match individuals and families to places where there is already an existing community of immigrants from similar backgrounds for new arrivals to plug into.

“In this case, that’s not possible,” said Aquino, noting that national immigration groups put out a call for help finding placement for thousands of Afghans, many of whom worked with U.S. and coalition forces and fled their homes out of fear of reprisals from the Taliban government.

“There are all these people that need to quickly come to the United States,” Aquino said, “because of persecution and death. Really scary stuff.”

All of the Afghans coming to Alaska are being extensively screened at American military bases as they prepare to embark on their journeys to more permanent destinations. That involves security vetting that is part of the Special Immigrant Visa program, for example, as well as healthcare checks, including mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations.

Since the 1990s, the RAIS program has served as a bridge for new immigrants and refugees in Alaska, connecting them with services, providing case management and assisting with education and employment.

“RAIS staff will work with Afghan evacuees on employment, English language skills, and more,” said the Monday release.

The program worked with 460 individuals living in Alaska during the last year.

RAIS is one of several programs within Catholic Social Services, which is better known in Anchorage for its work on homelessness, including operating the Brother Francis Shelter.

As of now, the program does not have specific information on the individuals or families who will be coming to Alaska, though Aquino expects it will inevitably be a mix of vulnerable people, like women, children, and elders, along with individuals who partnered with coalition operators in roles like translators.

Catholic Social Services is asking that those wishing contribute to the resettlement effort donate funds specifically for Afghans coming to Alaska, and eventually mobilizing volunteers to assist with meals, move-ins, and mentoring.

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