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Portland, Salem areas to receive most Afghan refugees in Oregon

AP file photo Afghan Refugees arrival at Dulles International Airport after the last planes left Afghanistan after U.S. withdrawal Aug. 31 in Dulles, Virginia.

About two dozen Afghan refugees began the relocation process in the Portland area earlier this week. Officials expect Oregon’s urban centers to take in most of the refugees coming to the state after fleeing violence in Afghanistan following the nation’s collapse into Taliban control.

“At this point, it looks like relocation will largely happen in the Portland and Salem metro areas,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, adding that some families may still find their way to Southern Oregon or elsewhere in the state.

In all, 37 states, including Oregon, are prepared to accept Afghan refugees, two will not and 11 remain undecided, according to an analysis by HuffPost Research.

Over the past two weeks, a collaborative effort among Oregon members of Congress, state officials and refugee service organizations has focused on the “path forward” for refugees, Marsh said, including the reception process, connection to services and relocation.

A group of lawmakers, state and municipal agencies, nonprofits and community leaders aims to formally launch as a refugee resettlement working group Sept. 14.

“The governor has put out a message saying very clearly that Oregon will welcome Afghan refugees, and we are lucky that we have a couple of legislators who are leading this effort up in Portland,” Marsh said, referencing Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, and Rep. Khanh Pham, D-Portland.

Relocating refugees to the state’s more densely populated areas, where other people with Afghan ties have already settled and refugee- and immigration-specific services are available, “makes sense,” she said, but several factors of the resettlement process have yet to be determined.

“I expect that there will be many ways that local residents can contribute, even if families don’t wind up resettling here, in terms of support and certainly in monetary ways — there will be expenses for people as they come and settle into a new community,” Marsh said Monday. “We’re still awaiting details of what this whole thing is going to look like.”

Marsh said she expects those details to take time, as the flow of individuals needing services accelerates, and refugees transition from one agency to the next on their journey to relocate in the U.S. The state expects 200-300 individuals in the coming months.

Portland-based organizations bracing to receive refugees this year include the Refugee Care Collective, which mostly resettles individuals and families from Afghanistan and Ukraine, according to its website.

“We’ll be receiving families who worked as Afghan allies with the U.S. government, and possibly families who are at risk for other reasons,” Megan Cegla, Refugee Care Collective executive director, wrote in a situation update published Aug. 17.

Oregon has one of the highest overall growth rates for refugee and immigrant populations in the nation, according to the Portland-based Immigrant Refugee Community Organization, which focuses on “removing barriers to self sufficiency,” providing services tailored to culture and language, job training, English language education, childhood and parenting support, youth academic assistance and gang prevention.

Members of the Oregon House and Senate, including Marsh, signed a letter Aug. 17 calling on President Joseph Biden’s administration to lift refugee admission caps, and affirming the state’s willingness to welcome Afghan families. Gov. Kate Brown issued a statement in support of the letter the next day.

“As Oregonians, we welcome vulnerable and displaced families seeking refuge from violence and oppression,” the letter said. “We know that in the current context women, children and LGBTQ+ people — as well as those that work on their behalf — are under immediate threat of violence and death.”

The letter cites passage of Senate Bill 778 in the 2021 legislative session — establishing a four staff-member Office of Immigrant and Refugee Advancement with $1.38 million in startup funds — as an “important step forward” to meeting the needs of immigrant and refugee groups.

The office is charged with advocating for and coordinating long-term support services, collecting and monitoring data and establishing organizational partnerships.

“I think we have taken all the steps that are appropriate at this point to make sure that we are viewed as a welcoming place for the Afghan refugees,” Marsh said. “I have been gratified to receive inquiries from people asking how they can be of service, because I think that’s really reflective of the best of our communities when we step up to extend ourselves to people who are in desperately dangerous circumstances.”

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.