King County Councilman calls for plan to help Afghan refugees settle here

Washington state expects roughly 6,000 refugees to come from Afghanistan.

C-17 at Joint Base Lewis McChord airstrip. (Photo courtesy of United States Military)

C-17 at Joint Base Lewis McChord airstrip. (Photo courtesy of United States Military)

As Washington state anticipates receiving as many as 6,000 Afghan refugees, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn introduced legislation Aug. 27 to help Afghan refugees settle in the Pacific Northwest.

“In the 1970s, former Washington Gov. Dan Evans led an exemplary effort to warmly welcome Southeast Asian refugees, who soon became valuable members of our community,” said Dunn. “We must do the same today by opening our arms to our Afghan allies by providing them with the resources they need to rebuild their lives as our neighbors.”

The motion would create a planning committee to support the placement of refugees and special visa holders from Afghanistan who have already been vetted by the federal government and who will make their new home in the region. The proposal calls for the participation of King County agencies including the Housing Authority, the Department of Community and Human Services, and the Immigrant and Refugee Commission; community organizations who will be responsible for resettling Afghan refugees; and the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

In addition to determining and responding to needs of resettlement agencies, the committee would be responsible for performing outreach to ensure Afghan refugees know what resources are available to help them.

Dunn also submitted a letter last week to the Executive to “begin a conversation of how King County can prepare to welcome these refugees, many who have served as allies alongside American soldiers, with open arms.”

The letter to Executive Dow Constantine:

Dear Executive Constantine,

The world watches in horror as the people of Afghanistan face the complete collapse of their government, the uncertainty brought by a hostile takeover of their country by Taliban fighters, and the loss of social progress made over the last two decades, especially for women and children. For Afghans who have been friends to America—including translators and interpreters for the U.S. military—the Taliban’s takeover of the country means certain and immediate danger to their lives and the lives of their family.

As the United States extricates itself from Afghanistan, it is being reported that the Department of Defense is planning on re-locating as many as 30,000 Afghans to the United States very soon. I am writing to begin a conversation of how King County can prepare to welcome these refugees, many who have served as allies alongside American soldiers, with open arms. We should make it known that there is a home for them here by providing services and resources to help them re-establish their lives in an unfamiliar country.

Though the story unfolding before us is devastating, it is also an opportunity to do the right thing. The current position of Afghan refugees is reminiscent of 1975, when former Governor Dan Evans proactively welcomed thousands of Southeast Asian refugees who made Washington state their new home. Through a variety of initiatives, and with the help of our citizens, organizations, and churches, we were able to provide the refugees with housing, food, job training, employment, medical care, and friendship.

Likewise, King County can be a safe harbor for Afghan refugees today. We can do so by issuing an invitation to Afghan refugees who need a new home, aligning every county agency to prepare to offer assistance, and enlisting the participation of the broader King County citizenry in offering help and opportunity to the new arrivals.

Right now, our nation is mourning the failure of a two-decade nation-building effort. We are mourning our inability to help the displaced people of Afghanistan who are in a state of desperation. And we are mourning the dangerous position of our Afghan allies who, after risking their lives for the cause of freedom, will now endure persecution. But in dark moments such as these, our light can shine brighter.

As a humanitarian crisis unfolds before us, King County must prepare to respond however we can. I urge your action and am eager to collaborate however is appropriate and needed. I am also requesting a briefing on any efforts King County has already planned or executed.

I know we share concern about the urgent need before us, and I appreciate your attention to this issue.

Sincerely,

Reagan Dunn


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