Utah handles largest refugee resettlement in state history



SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Ahmad Naweed Shirzad was working on a documentary north of Kabul, Afghanistan, last year with his colleagues when he learned that the Taliban were taking power in the country’s provinces.

As he and his crew made their way to Kabul for safety, Shirzad said he was ambushed by Taliban fighters who seriously wounded him in the arm and killed someone from his security detail, said reported the Salt Lake Tribune. After Shirzad recovered in hospital, he received a call from the documentary’s director telling him to go to the airport to catch a US military flight from Afghanistan.

Shirzad is one of 60,000 Afghan immigrants who have resettled in the United States to seek refuge as a humanitarian crisis unfolds in Afghanistan. Of those, just over 900 Afghan refugees have settled in Utah – the largest refugee resettlement in the state’s history.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox announced a plan on Wednesday to help assimilate Afghan immigrants, many of whom are considered humanitarian parolees, into the state by providing them with housing, education and job opportunities. work.

“Since the rapid evacuation that occurred in August of last year, just over 900 of the arrivals assigned to our state have now been resettled in Utah,” Cox said at a press conference. in the Golden Room of the Capitol on what is called “Afghan Day on the Hill.”

“This group includes people who have worked closely with the US government in Afghanistan and who have been essential allies,” he said. “They are here with their families and children to build a new life.

Cox said the state will provide labor training for Afghan refugees, which includes English and technology classes. He also said the state has raised about $1 million for the Utah Afghan Community Fund, used to pay for legal assistance, cell phones and other necessities for Afghan arrivals.

“They came to Utah with permission to work, and we’re helping them find good jobs,” Cox said. “We recognize the incredible talents, abilities and life experiences that these Afghans bring to our workforce. They will be wonderful additions to fill much-needed vacancies in the state.

Cox said he’s worried about finding housing for Afghan refugees, especially as the state faces a housing shortage crisis. He called on Utahns to help secure 50 more homes for 220 people by the end of March.

“Ensuring that we are able to find permanent accommodation…for these refugees remains a very high priority,” he said. “We’re still short and that’s where we can still use a little help.”

Cox called resettling hundreds of refugees in the state a “huge task,” but said the work was possible with the help of resettlement agencies like the Utah Office of Refugee Services, the Committee International Relief and Catholic Community Services.

After leaving Afghanistan in August, Shirzad spent time in Qatar and at a US military base before moving to Utah in December last year.

“I feel very safe here,” Shirzad said through an interpreter. “And I found Utah to be a symbol of humanity, democracy and freedom in every way.”

Shirzad hopes to find a job in Utah making documentaries.

Shirzad said his wife, two children and father still live in Afghanistan. He keeps pictures of his children on his cell phone but he doesn’t know if they will be able to move to the United States to join him.

This week, Cox signed a bill sponsored by state Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, that would allow humanitarian parolees access to an interpreter when obtaining a driver’s license. of state.

“We are grateful for the willingness of the legislature to address issues that impact not only Afghan arrivals, but also refugees arriving in the state,” he said.

Another bill that would serve Utah’s immigrant communities is HB130, which would allow individuals to take a driver’s license exam in a language other than English, Cox added.

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