Northwest Iowa community to host welcome event for Afghan refugees
Afghan refugees in northwest Iowa will get the opportunity to share their stories with the community at an event at the Mary J. Treglia Community House on Monday.
The Mary J. Treglia Community House is hosting an informational event for any Iowans who want to learn more about the state’s more than 600 Afghan arrivals. The event’s organizers hope it will initiate conversations on how the Sioux City community can come together to welcome their new neighbors.
Executive director of the non-profit, Becky Carlson, said she sees these conversations as a way to instill empathy in the community. She wants each refugee to be seen as a person, rather than a number.
“People forget that refugees actually are fleeing a situation in their home country,” Carlson said. “And so this is a great way to explain that personally. So someone can say I actually know of someone's story, and that hopefully will change their thought processes.”
Reza Akrami is one of the refugees who will be sharing his story on Monday. He arrived in Sioux City in November, after being evacuated from Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in August.
He said it’s important for people to understand the hardships facing his home country. Although most of his extended family were able to accompany him to the United States, he remains in contact with many friends and colleagues whom he had to leave behind.
“As much as I am happy [to be here], I'm worried about the families in Afghanistan,” Akrami said. “And it is very good that all the people know that those left in Afghanistan are struggling. They are struggling to be alive.”
Halima Yakouri, a Northwestern student from Kabul, Afghanistan, will also share her experience of growing up in Afghanistan and adjusting to the United States. She’s helped to resettle other Afghan refugees in Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin and in Sioux City.
People forget that refugees actually are fleeing a situation in their home country. This is a great way to explain that personally. So someone can say 'I actually know of someone's story', and that hopefully will change their thought processes.Becky Carlson, executive director of the Mary J. Treglia Community House
The event will outline ways for community members to welcome their new neighbors. Northwestern theology professor and one of the event’s organizers, Jason Leif, held a similar event in January in Orange City. He said community members were eager to learn more about the resettlement process and to find ways to help.
“There's plenty of opportunities to get involved in everything from driving people to doctor's appointments, to buying Walmart cards, to helping people with rent, to helping people speak English, to just being friends with them,” he said.
Carlson said the event will also serve as a chance to clear up misinformation surrounding refugees. She said many people don’t understand how difficult a process and experience it can be to enter into the U.S. as a refugee.
“There's a lot of vetting that happens, and just making sure that that information is correct is a struggle,” Carlson said.
Some of the latest Afghan arrivals bear the status of humanitarian parolees, meaning they’re United States’ residency is only temporary. Before two years passes, Afghans will need to apply for asylum or Special Immigrant Visa status in order to remain in the U.S.
At the event, attendees will be encouraged to send letters to legislators in support of the Afghan Adjustment Act – a measure that would streamline the parolees’ process to achieve permanent residency.
“If this act were to be passed this would create a clearer pathway for Afghans to have permanence in the States,” said Mercedes Dimas, refugees coordinator. “As of now, most Afghans came in as parolees and the path to residency is long and somewhat extensive.”
But, Dimas said the event will focus on personal stories and experiences of Iowa’s new residents. She said she hopes the community can continue to come together to support all refugees, not just those from Afghanistan.
“I feel like more people are seeing we have a very diverse community,” she said. “And yet, it isn't until now that we are opening our eyes to start welcoming and supporting the people coming into our community.”
The event will begin at the Mary J. Treglia Community House in Sioux City at 7 p.m.