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Fundraising benefit to help incoming Afghan refugees

David Goldman
Afghan refugees are processed at Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village where they are being housed, in New Mexico, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Biden administration provided the first public look inside the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them.

The Des Moines field office for the U.S. Committee For Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is hosting its ‘Welcoming Iowa’ event for the third year. This year the agency said it has raised the most money ever.

This year’s fundraising will benefit at least 125 Afghan refugees, along with more than 300 from other countries, expected to resettle in the state.

More information about Afghan refugees expected in Iowa can be found here.

Director Kerri True-Funk said they’ve already raised more than $43,000 of their $50,000 goal. Last year's virtual event raised about $26,000. The first year raised about $5,000, True-Funk said.

“We call it 'Welcoming Iowa' because we are really interested in making our newest Iowa neighbors feel welcome, feel part of the community and helping them and their children settle in," she said. "Refugees are just people, everyday people whose home countries have become unsafe for them, a lot of it due to war and other other political turmoil. And they just really need a safe place to be able to live their lives and be community members."

The funds will go directly to the Des Moines office and will be used for legal services, health care, education and other living expenses. The event starts at 5 pm Thursday at the Foundry Distilling Company in Historic Valley Junction. Registration is available online or at the door with a $25 donation for individual entry.

True-Funk said USCRI has been overwhelmed with the support they have received in their efforts to resettle Afghan refugees since the Taliban took over government there.

She said she's happy Iowa seems to be upholding its history in welcoming refugees. The history began with former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray accepting southeast Asian refugees in the 1970s.

“When you read the news or watch TV, it can feel like there's a lot of division in the country. But really, this shows us that Iowans still believe in helping their neighbors and helping refugees and making sure that their community is a welcoming place," True-Funk said.

President Joe Biden increased the refugee cap well above the cap under the former administration. This fiscal year, the cap is at 125,000. USCRI Des Moines has resettled more than 4,000 refugees since 2010 and is regarded as the largest refugee resettlement agency in Iowa.

At the event, True-Funk said they will discuss the challenges and successes of the past year. The keynote speaker will be the son of Taidam refugees from Laos.

In September, Des Moines USCRI resettled around 55 refugees, which they said was more than any USCRI field office in the country. They will also celebrate some challenges they overcame, such as COVID-19 obstacles.

"Navigating all of that as well as, you know, there's been a lot of changes in the refugee resettlement program over the last year with both travel restrictions being put in place and then released around COVID, as well as changes that have happened at the federal level to increase the ability of refugees coming to this country," True-Funk explained.

She said one success was adapting to COVID conditions. Des Moines USCRI was able to host its first green card clinic since the start of the pandemic. Nineteen people were able to apply after the clinic.

True-Funk said she hopes people leave the event with open minds and think of Afghan refugees and other refugees as new Iowans.