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Missoula set to welcome Afghan refugees

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Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal before boarding a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va., on Monday.

Missoula is set to house a handful of refugees who have left Afghanistan and are seeking safety amid an unfolding crisis situation.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Missoula currently has seven Afghan refugees completing processing and is set to receive three more individuals in the near future who will be settling in Montana, some of which are expected to end up in Missoula. These refugees are Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants, Afghans who have worked with the U.S. government and military in the past.

The IRC is an international group dedicated to resettling people fleeing crises all over the globe. They have several offices across the U.S., including one in Missoula. 

Natalie El-Deiry, IRC's Executive Director for Salt Lake City and Missoula, said this number could increase as the situation in Afghanistan continues to develop.

“Refugee settlement is one of the pillars of the U.S.,” she said, adding it’s important for Missoula to maintain its program to continue helping those needing sanctuary.

While the exact timeline isn’t set yet, El-Deiry said the IRC is working quickly to try to get folks from the processing stage into safe housing as soon as possible. During processing, refugees stay at U.S. military bases.

“First and foremost we want to get people to safety,” she said.

On Friday, the AP reported President Joe Biden pledged to bring Afghans who aided in war efforts to safety.

IRC in Missoula has a five-year long track record of resettling refugees, El-Deiry said, so they wanted to continue this work by aiding people exiting the crisis situation in Afghanistan.

Mary Poole, executive director of Soft Landing Missoula, an organization dedicated to helping and welcoming refugees into the Garden City, said the waiting game is hard, and Soft Landing Missoula is working closely with a handful of Afghan families to get their loved ones to safety.

El-Deiry urges Missoulians to help not only through donations, but also by signing up for volunteer opportunities to befriend refugees and show them around the city.

“A friendly face and warm smile can go a long way when welcoming someone who has been through so much hardship and trauma,” El-Deiry said.

Both El-Deiry and Poole encourage Missoulians to let their Congressional members know Missoula — and all of Montana — is ready and wanting to help refugees.

“Let them know Montanans care,” Poole said, adding it’s important to show Congress Montanans are ready to stand behind their promises to protect the safety of people who have put themselves at risk for U.S. missions.

Monetary donations to secure housing, furnish homes and get cash to the SIV applicants while they look for work are important for aiding individuals in getting their footing while they settle into Montana, El-Deiry said. 

Checks can be mailed to or dropped off at the IRC building on Liberty Lane in Missoula and contributions are also accepted online. Unused mattresses and smaller household items like lamps and small kitchen appliances can also be dropped off. Donations to Soft Landing Missoula can be made on their website.

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