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Afghan arrivals to be accepted through January

Afghan Refugees arrival at Dulles International Airport after the last planes left Afghanistan after U.S. withdrawal Aug. 31 in Dulles, Virginia. [credit: AP file photo/mpi34/MediaPunch /IPX]

The Afghan Arrivals Workgroup — a collaborative effort among lawmakers, state and local agencies, nonprofits and community leaders — has established subgroups to coordinate key aspects of Afghan refugee relocation in Oregon.

Committee subgroups include housing, legal, education, child care, employment/workforce development, health care, translation services and community organizing. The Afghan Arrivals Workgroup launched Sept. 14 and meets biweekly.

“We are exploring all avenues on how to provide resources from the state to meet needs of families that will be resettled in Oregon in this emergency humanitarian resettlement effort,” said Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, and Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland, in a written workgroup update.

Ongoing efforts include collaboration with legislative leaders and the governor’s office, and exploration of possible statutory changes during the 2022 legislative session that would “establish a more robust and sustainable refugee response in Oregon, recovering capacity that was lost during the Trump administration years,” the update said.

On Sept. 30, Congress authorized $6.3 billion to aid the national Afghan resettlement program — impacts of the funding on Oregon’s resettlement effort remain under analysis as of Oct. 8, Pham and Jama said.

Also on the federal level, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley urged leaders from the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to waive fees for Afghans applying to stay in the U.S. for urgent humanitarian reasons. The previous week, Merkley saw his bill passed helping to “ease the transition” for recently evacuated Afghan refugees relocating to the U.S.

“It is our hope and aspiration that in the long term, the work started by this convened workgroup can be sustainably managed by the emerging Office of Immigrant and Refugee Advancement once it is established,” Pham and Jama said in the update. “It is our understanding that the practical window for accepting Afghan arrivals closes in January 2022, and these arrivals will receive services through March 2023.”

Between October of 2020 and July 2021, about 25 Afghan people resettled in Oregon, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services Refugee Program. State officials expect Portland and Salem to take in most of the estimated 200-300 refugees coming to the state following the collapse of Afghanistan into Taliban control.

The original estimate for special immigrant visa holders from Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal year 2022 was 79, according to ODHS, and a total number of additional individuals expected from Afghanistan remains unclear.

Potential barriers to resettlement include a long standing housing crisis and limited housing availability, high cost of housing for rent and purchase, landlord preference for strong employment and rental history, and Fair Housing Laws, which prohibit reserving homes for people based on ethnicity or gender identity, according to a presentation by Chelsea Bunch, equity, diversity and inclusion officer for Oregon Housing and Community Services.