A group of Afghan refugees have been welcomed to Oklahoma City by Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City and the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma chapter, a Catholic Charities leader said Thursday.
The first Afghan family was met at Will Rogers World Airport by staff members from Catholic Charities and CAIR-OK, Kim Mizar, Catholic Charities' communications director, said in a news release. She said Catholic Charities provided transportation to a safe, clean environment for the refugees to live in while they transition, and CAIR-OK provided welcome bags and a welcome meal for "our new neighbors."
Mizar said Oklahoma is expected to receive the third largest group of Afghan refugees coming to the U.S. About 1,800 Afghan refugees are expected, with 1,000 to resettle in Oklahoma City and about 800 to go to Tulsa.
“I believe our work in this space is a direct continuation of the mission of those 13 brave Americans who lost their lives to provide safety and security for these very people, and I for one am proud to be engaged," Patrick Raglow, Catholic Charities-OKC executive director, said in a news release. "We have been gratified by the outpouring of support from across the community and invite all others of goodwill to do their part in offering welcome to these new members of our community.”
Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR-OK, said his organization was happy to partner with Catholic Charities to welcome the family of seven to Oklahoma City.
"On our end, we were incredibly excited to welcome the family that arrived last night," he said. "Immediately, they were provided with welcome kits with items like the Quran, PPE, prayer rugs and we also included hygiene items like shampoo, toothbrushes and they were happy with that. They did not travel with a lot of things so it seemed to make their transition easier."
Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, was one of a few people from the metro-area interfaith community chosen to greet the Afghan family upon their arrival at the airport.
"We were standing there at the airport with great anticipation to greet them and sure enough, here they come in traditional clothing, a family with kids," he said. "You could see both the worry and the hope on the parents' faces at the same time. Looking at the kids' faces you could see joy and happiness as we took them down to pick up their luggage."
Enchassi said he was able to speak to the father of the family because he spoke some Arabic. The imam said an interpreter was made available, as well.
"He (the father) was happy that we were there," Enchassi said. "People from the interfaith community were there. We brought them their first halal meal in Oklahoma City as we promised them that we would be with them every step of the way."
Mizar said Catholic Charities is protecting the privacy of the family, thus no pictures were taken upon their arrival and their names are not being made public.
Enchassi said he felt it was important that only a small number of people were assembled to greet the family and the new arrivals' privacy should be protected.
"We did not want to have a bigger delegation than that," he said. "We did not want to take any pictures so their family would not be subject to any kind of harm in Afghanistan and also for their safety here."
Michael Korenblit, co-founder of the Respect Diversity Foundation and the son of Holocaust survivors, also greeted the refugee family.
"It was an incredible experience," he said. "When I saw them walking through the gate at the airport to be greeted by people out there, in my mind I pictured my grandparents, my mom and dad and all their brothers and sisters walking through that gate 82 years ago that America would have opened its arms to the Jews if they'd been those refugees from all those different countries — so I was excited to see that."
Korenblit said he is a strong believer in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"One of the rights in there is that people be able to seek asylum to escape persecution because of who they are," he said.
"To me, it's just so important that Oklahomans meet up to the 'Oklahoma Standard' and not just accept them but welcome them with open arms here and do everything possible to help them be integrated into our society."
Gov. Kevin Stitt and several members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation have said they welcome the displaced refugees to the state.
For information about volunteering to assist with the new arrivals, go to https://www.catholiccharitiesok.org/index.php?p=get-help/refugee-services.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Afghan refugees arrive in OKC, greeted by Catholic Charities, CAIR-OK