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Afghan refugees arrive in Anchorage while volunteers smooth their way

Volunteers get an apartment ready for a newly arriving Afghan family in Anchorage, Alaska.
Volunteers get an apartment ready for a newly arriving Afghan family in Anchorage, Alaska.(ktuu)
Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 5:15 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Afghan refugees have started to arrive in Anchorage. By the end of the weekend, Anchorage will be a new home for about 50 refugees, with another 50 on the way, according to Catholic Social Services Refugee Coordinator Issa Spatrisano.

She said the refugees come from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences.

“We are having such a broad range of arrivals from people who were like, journalists in their home country or even in the Afghan assembly who had been elected officials,” Spatrisano said. “All the way to individuals who, you know, were soldiers or assisted the U.S. military in some capacity, to, you know, families who worked for an NGO and needed to get out.”

But Spatrisano pointed out that all of them have something in common.

“No matter what your story was back in Afghanistan, your story starts the same here,” she said.

On Friday afternoon, volunteers were hauling furniture, food, and pots and pans up the stairs to an East Anchorage apartment. They were getting it ready for a family with eight children, including a newborn, set to arrive on Saturday.

Spatrisano said the U.S. government helps refugees to resettle by offering a one-time payment of $1,225 per person. The money goes to Catholic Social Services which uses it to find housing and other necessities, but Spatrisano said the funding generally doesn’t last long.

“So imagine that that’s supposed to pay your security deposit, get your rent, fill your apartment with everything you need, buy your beds. Of course that’s not realistic right?” she said. “No one would be able to afford it. That’s why we can’t do this work without our community, we just simply can’t.”

The Catholic Social Services website lists items that refugees need as well as ways that people can help by donating their time to be drivers or mentors to an arriving family.

Spatrisano said the refugees, who have fled their country with very little, are grateful for the chance to start over.

“I think they really feel that gratitude, not to us at CSS in Alaska, but to the entire federal government for the fact that they’re here, they’re safe,” she said. “The journey’s just starting, it’s really far from over, but you can sense when people can breathe again.”

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