ASHEVILLE - Following the arrival of more than 40 Afghan refugees this fall, the area is set to receive nearly 100 more people from that country who fled fearing reprisals from the Taliban government.
The new group of refugees started arriving in the Asheville area the night of Jan. 11 with a single adult male, according to officials with Lutheran Services Carolinas, which is administering the newest relocation. In following days, more single men and four women are slated to come.
Of the combined 140 already here and those set to arrive, many are single men, but there are also women and families. Nearly 50 are children.
They are among tens of thousands who found their way to this country after the quick U.S. troop pullout in August that was criticized for the chaos and death accompanying it. Most evacuees had worked to aid the American mission or had family who did and are now afraid they will be imprisoned or worse by the theocratic regime that has promised to act with a light hand but has a history of brutal repression.
"We know that most of the people that were evacuated are connected to the U.S. military or non-governmental organizations," said Bedrija Jazic, Lutheran Services New Americans Program director.
"They had to flee because they became targeted by the Taliban. They are definitely our allies and friends."
Officials aiding those already settled have declined to make refugees available for interviews, saying it could endanger them or family and friends still in Afghanistan.
The Afghans are coming from the military bases where they were first housed after arriving in the U.S.
Local residents have been overwhelming in their desire to help, say officials with Lutheran Services and Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte — which resettled the first group of 41, soon to be 42 — though needs still remain. Those include housing, job mentoring and vehicles that can be shared among refugees to get to employment and other appointments.
"As we know, there is a housing crisis nationwide. And with the number of people coming our way we are looking for temporary and permanent housing. That is the most urgent need we have," Jazic said.
The second biggest need, is individuals and groups to volunteer to short-term to sort clothes donated in recent clothing drive — or longer term to "adopt" a refugee or family and help connect them to food banks and other social services.
In terms of material donations, there is already a large supply of donated winter clothes, but gift cards for groceries, toiletries and household goods would be helpful, said local Lutheran Services coordinator Laura Collins. Single-size bed frames, box springs, bunk beds and new mattresses are also needed, Collins said.
Of the 41 already in the area, they have found short- and medium-term housing in the area, with about half in Black Mountain, according to Catholic Services caseworker Noele Aabye, who said they are now looking for longer-term solutions. Having that stability allowed them to focus on next steps: getting social security cards, employment authorization and English training, she said.
Their greatest needs now are individuals willing to work with refugees one-on-one in areas where they have employment experience and hope to work again, Aabye said.
Also, because it is difficult to get around the area without a car, refugees are working to get licenses and need vehicles that they can share to get to jobs or appointments, she said.
"We have folks employed and starting to earn their first paychecks in the U.S. which is just transformative for them and their families still in Afghanistan."
Family members left in Afghanistan are facing an increasingly desperate situation marked by a hard winter, food shortages and continued fear of beatings, imprisonment or death, Aabye said.
"The thing everyone is continuing to struggle with is the fact that they are separated from their loved ones and not able to support them the way they had been before the evacuation," she said.
Want to help?
Those wanting to help newly arriving refugees with housing can contact Laura Collins at LCollins@lscarolinas.net.
To volunteer with newly arriving refugees or to donate goods, contact Amy Dix at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To do job mentoring or help with vehicles or other needs of already settled refugees, email email@example.com.
Reporter Ezra Maille contributed to this story.
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: 100 more Afghan refugees starting to arrive in Asheville, 42 children