Washington has received about 340 Afghan refugees in recent weeks and expects to greet about 1,400 more in coming months, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday, as he urged the state to join him in welcoming refugees.
Inslee spoke at a new welcome center at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, a space used as a station for refugee resettlement staff to meet with new arrivals.
Sea-Tac has new signs around the airport welcoming Afghan refugees, in English, Pashto and Dari, and case workers are getting airport security badges so they can meet arriving families at the gate.
Case workers help arriving families collect their bags and then transport them to temporary housing, often a house provided by Airbnb or a hotel, said Nicky Smith, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Seattle, a refugee resettlement agency.
The day after they arrive, we “start the process,” Smith said. There’s a checklist of tasks that can take up to 90 days, Smith said — getting kids in school, doctor’s checkups, getting social security cards and housing and jobs.
“Many are coming in with just the clothes on their back, they literally fled with just what they could carry,” Smith said.
Dr. Umair Shah, the state Health secretary, said every arrival goes through a refugee health screening including, if necessary, vaccinations.
“I personally know the refugee story and immigrant experience because my own family and I have lived through them,” said Aneelah Afzali, director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound. “I speak for many Afghans here with us today when I say it has been an emotional rollercoaster for so many of us.”
Inslee recalled Washington’s long history of welcoming refugees, noting bipartisan support dating back decades. In 1975, under Republican Gov. Dan Evans, Washington was the only state in the country to develop a state-run refugee resettlement agency for Vietnamese refugees.
Since then, more about 150,000 refugees from 70 countries have arrived in Washington, Inslee said.
“This is an expression of who we are as a state, we are a compassionate state, we understand our common brother and sisterhood and we embrace people of diverse backgrounds,” he said.
The state is still looking for long-term housing and job opportunities for refugees, officials said. Those looking to help can contact refugee resettlement agencies directly or the statewide All in Washington campaign.