Local Leaders Ask Washington To Welcome Incoming Afghan Refugees

OLYMPIA, WA — Gov. Jay Inslee, Port of Seattle Commissioner Sam Cho, and Aneelah Afzali, Executive Director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network, were among a group of speakers who came together Friday to ask Washington to step up and welcome incoming refugees from Afghanistan.

“It is a joyous day any time that we can demonstrate the values of the state of Washington: our compassion, our welcoming spirit, our ability to build our state with new Washingtonians,” Inslee said.

According to the governor, some 340 Afghan refugees have already arrived in Washington. 1,400 more are expected to join them as they flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

At Friday’s conference, the governor pointed to Washington’s long history of accepting and celebrating immigrants from a variety of backgrounds, and shared his hope that the state would do the same for its new neighbors.

“We are a compassionate state, we understand our common brother and sisterhood, and we embrace people of diverse backgrounds,” Inslee said.

Over 150,000 refugees from 70 countries have resettled in Washington since 1975.

Though the tone at Friday’s conference was largely optimistic, Inslee did briefly touch on concerns of racism and hate, decrying last year’s rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, and a recent arson at a University Place mosque. Hate, the governor said, has no place in Washington.

“We are better than this as a state, and this will not stand,” Inslee said.

That said, Inslee and other speakers said they expect the best from Washington— and have already seen an outpouring of compassion for its newest residents.

“Over the past few months, the response of the community has been nothing short of amazing,” said Cho.

Friday’s conference took place at Sea-Tac’s “Afghan Welcome Center” which the airport launched in September to create a private space where incoming refugees can be connected with support nonprofits and resettlement agencies.

Those agencies and non-profits will have their work cut out for them as hundreds of families make their way to the Evergreen state, but speakers at Friday’s event expressed confidence they could get the job done — especially if everyday Washingtonians come forward to help.

“Our resettlement systems will be tested in unprecedented ways,” said Aneelah Afzali, Executive Director for the American Muslim Empowerment Network.

The American Muslim Empowerment Network has already begun coordinating with nine resettlement agencies to welcome incoming refugees, Afzali said. Those agencies can always use more volunteers, and the governor’s office is asking interested Washingtonians to reach out, providing a list of resettlement groups in need of support.

Residents can also volunteer directly with the DSHS Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance by emailing [email protected], the governor’s office said.

The state is also working to partner with local businesses for help: Friday’s conference featured an appearance by Microsoft, which pledged $1 million towards resettlement, and promised to match employee contributions to help support refugees.

Though 1,400 refugees are on their way to Washington now, more could be coming in the near future as the situation in Afghanistan evolves. Thousands of Afghani residents worked shoulder-to-shoulder with American soldiers for more than a decade, and according to the Office Of Financial Management’s DEI Innovations Manager Flora Estrada, they deserve Washington’s help should they need it.

“It is our responsibility to honor the promise,” Estrada said. “We’re not going to forget about them.”

Related stories:

Resettling Afghan Refugees In WA: What’s Different This Time

Inslee Reaffirms Washington’s Support For Afghan Refugees

Pierce County Council Shows Solidarity With Afghan Refugees

Source: Bellevue Patch