With chaos in Kabul ongoing, Bowling Green’s refugee resettlement agency announced the community can expect about 200 Afghan refugees to arrive in the coming months, and the first arrivals could show up as early as this week.
“I cannot rule that out,” International Center of Kentucky Executive Director Albert Mbanfu said. “I would not be surprised if we start seeing some next week.”
He described the situation as rapidly evolving: “Things are changing by the hour.”
In addition, Mbanfu told the Daily News that Owensboro can also expect about 100 Afghan refugees, who are fleeing by the thousands from Kabul after the Afghan capital fell to Taliban forces.
Last week, Mbanfu said the nation’s nine volunteer agencies – who do the work of resettling and integrating refugee arrivals into communities across the country – were summoned by the State Department for an urgent conference call.
During the call, Mbanfu said the agencies were strongly encouraged to absorb the Afghan refugee influx.
“It was kind of imposed,” Mbanfu said, adding that the State Department would not accept any proposal to resettle fewer than 100 of the refugees.
Further, given the urgent situation in Afghanistan and the refugee crisis it has created, Mbanfu speculated the agency’s initial plan to resettle 500 refugees by the end of the current fiscal year could be upended.
Barring any additional funding from Congress – which he said doesn’t seem likely – the agency will have to reallocate its current budget to accommodate these new arrivals.
“That is just my speculation,” Mbanfu said.
Mbanfu said the superintendents of both local public school systems, Bowling Green Mayor Todd Alcott and Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon were all briefed on the development before the agency publicly announced it.
As for the refugees themselves and who they are, Mbanfu said that all of them ”have helped a U.S. entity in one way or another,” whether they worked as interpreters for American troops on the ground, a nongovernmental organization or other entities with U.S. ties.
The process of bringing in these Afghan refugees – who have often put the lives of themselves and their families at risk by working with the U.S. against the Taliban – has been hamstrung by previous presidential administrations’ suspension of the Special Immigrant Visa program, Mbanfu said
“Now with (President Joe) Biden coming in, they had to open the process all over again” and deal with the additional backlog, Mbanfu said,
As a result, at least (some) of the Afghan refugees that will come to the area are classified as “Afghan paroles” meaning they have essentially waited their turn for years and are only now coming into the country.
Fending off potential accusations that the International Center is bringing in “terrorists,” Mbanfu noted that these Afghans have to undergo extensive vetting before they can work with the U.S. – sometimes joining American soldiers on missions, for example. Additionally, he noted that many of these arrivals are being kept waiting for hours on planes at airports throughout the country as the Department of Homeland Security runs additional screenings.
Further, these refugees are tested for COVID-19 before being admitted into the U.S. and any Afghan refugee older than 12 years old coming to Bowling Green will have received at least one jab of the coronavirus vaccine.
The same can’t be said for broader Warren County, the adult population of which is still only about 52% vaccinated with the county in the red for virus incidence and local hospitals buckling under the burden of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.