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Hundreds of Afghan refugees likely to arrive in Spokane in coming months, World Relief director says

Aug. 31, 2021 Updated Tue., Aug. 31, 2021 at 8:59 p.m.

Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday.  (Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla)
Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday. (Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla)

WASHINGTON – Hundreds of Afghan refugees who fled their home country in the mass evacuation that ended Monday are likely to arrive in Spokane in the coming months.

Mark Finney, director of World Relief Spokane, a Christian group that helps refugees settle into their new homes, said his organization expects between 200 and 300 Afghans to arrive in Spokane . An exact number and timeline is not yet clear. Finney said he based his estimate on Afghans who already live in the Spokane area and hope to reunite with loved ones who were able to board evacuation flights.

On Aug. 15, Finney answered a call for volunteers and flew to Fort Lee – an Army base near Richmond, Virginia – expecting to help welcome Afghans who had applied for Special Immigrant Visas, a program reserved for the immediate families of those who aided the U.S. government as interpreters and in other key roles. But while he was en route from Spokane, Taliban fighters took control of Afghanistan’s capital and the evacuation turned chaotic, with evacuees taken to transit points first in Qatar and then in other countries.

“When Kabul fell, the evacuation changed from organized, focused on Special Immigrant Visa applicants to – as far as I can tell – whoever had the ability to get into the airport,” Finney said.

“There’s lots of other people who are vulnerable to the Taliban,” he said. “Maybe they were a female journalist or a civil rights advocate that the U.S. recognizes will be a person of concern that should be evacuated, but not necessarily under the SIV program.”

The U.S. evacuated some 122,300 people from Kabul since the end of July, the White House said Monday, most of them Afghans who feared retribution from the Taliban because they worked with the U.S. government or otherwise supported America’s two-decade presence in their country. Some 6,000 U.S. citizens were also evacuated, according to the Pentagon.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden called the unprecedented airlift an “extraordinary success,” despite the Aug. 26 suicide attacks by an Islamic State affiliate that killed 13 U.S. troops and more than 170 civilians outside the airport. A U.S. drone strike on Sunday thwarted another attack by the group known as ISIS-K, the Pentagon said, but reportedly also killed 10 civilians.

Biden said between 100 and 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan “with some intention to leave,” most of them dual citizens with family in the country, and the U.S. government would continue to help them get out if they want to leave.

The Afghan evacuees have begun arriving at several military bases around the U.S. – including Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, where Finney spent a few days after a week in Virginia – with thousands more still waiting at transit points throughout Europe and the Middle East.

While Special Immigrant Visas bestow permanent resident status and put new arrivals on a path to U.S. citizenship, Finney said most of the Afghans arriving in the U.S. will likely be given humanitarian parole, a status that lets them live in the country legally while they apply for asylum.

Finney said World Relief Spokane has already begun receiving an outpouring of support for the Afghan refugees, who left home with no more than a single suitcase and will need to rebuild their lives in the Inland Northwest. Those who wish to donate or volunteer can learn more at the following website:

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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