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By Miriam Raftery

Photo courtesy of the Pentagon: U.S. troops help evacuate Afghan refugees

October 8, 2021 (San Diego) – San Diego Supervisors voted unanimously this week to adopt a proposal by East County Supervisor Joel Anderson to have the County Office of immigrant and Refugee Affairs work with refugee resettlement agencies to assist with a wave of Afghan refugees arriving in our region. The board also approved Anderson’s plan to ask the federal government to spend part of $9.5 billion in frozen Taliban assets to pay for refugee resettlements.

In addition, Supervisors approved a proposal by Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer to create an Afghan Resettlement Task Force.

With the Taliban takeover of the country, those who helped American troops as translators or in other capacities faced risk of death if they remained, as did women’s rights and human rights advocates. Many fled Afghanistan with few personal possessions.

Anderson stated, “I am thankful that my colleagues recognize the importance of this measure that will ensure San Diego County is ready to welcome these refugees into our communities.” He added that his East County district has a large population of Afghans and others with Middle Eastern heritage.”

In an earlier interview with 10 News, Anderson said areas of his district including El Cajon and Spring Valley have had 38,000 refugees from the Middle East settle there in recent years including refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other nations.

Anderson has said he views it as a “moral obligation” to assist them – but also indicated he wants to avoid having local taxpayers fund the resettlements by having the federal government spend frozen Taliban assets. He has noted that in the past, the U.S. has used frozen assets of Cuba and Iran to resettle refugees from those regions.

An estimated 58,000 Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in the U.S. following the U.S. troop withdrawal that ended a 20-year war in Afghanistan which began after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

California is expected to take in about 5,200 of those refugees—more than any other state, and around 1,300 are expected to arrive in San Diego by December, says Jill Galante, co-leader of Helping El Cajon Refugees, 10 News reports. Her organization has solicited donations of household goods from East County community members to help the new arrivals set up households when they arrive.

Some families have already arrived, provided temporary aid by groups like Jewish Family Services, Catholic Charities Diocese, Refugee and Immigrant Services, and Helping El Cajon Refugees.  These groups provide short-term housing and food, as well as help with jobs, enrolling students in schools,  translation services, English classes, and short-term counseling for refugees who have experienced trauma.

But aid agencies provide only short-term assistant for 90 days. There is a critical need for long term help, particularly to find permanent housing for refugee families in San Diego County, an area with high housing costs and a shortage of affordable housing.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher sided with Anderson after some residents testified against helping the refugees over safety concerns.

Fletcher noted that all Afghan refugees have been vetted by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as U.S. Customs officials before they are admitted to the U.S.

“They love this country,” added Fletcher, a Marine Corps combat veteran. “If we’re a country that can’t keep our word to people who sacrificed for us, then shame on us.”

The Afghan Resettlement Task Force proposed by Supervisor Lawson-Remer aims to pull together resources from nonprofits, local governments and school districts, serving as a central clearinghouse.  Nadine Toppozada, the Director of Refugee and Immigrant Services in the San Diego region, say the ability to rely on a task force to provide support after short-term aid runs out “is crucial.”


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