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Welcoming Afghans to DSM

Afghans in DSM

November 24, 2021

For most of us, it’s impossible to imagine being forced to flee one’s country with only a few suitcases to start a new life.

However, this is the reality for Afghans and refugees from around the world resettling in Greater Des Moines (DSM).

In mid-August of this year, as the Taliban swept through Afghanistan, the U.S. military evacuated over 60,000 at-risk Afghans as part of Operation Allies Welcome. Many of these individuals had worked with the U.S. military as interpreters. Others were U.S. citizens, worked for human rights organizations, identified as LGBTQI+ or were part of other highly vulnerable groups.

Resettlement Efforts in DSM

This year at least 700 Afghan evacuees are expected to arrive to Iowa, with many already having made their way here. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ Des Moines Field Office (USCRI Des Moines) is one of three refugee resettlement agencies in DSM tasked with supporting individuals during their first months in the state.

Along with Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services in Iowa (LSI), USCRI Des Moines ensures that newly arrived Afghans and refugees have everything they need to successfully integrate into their new communities, from helping them land their first job in the U.S. to enrolling their children in school and providing cultural orientation.

Settling in Iowa

This month alone, our office will welcome 77 Afghans. We expect more than 600 individuals over the course of the year, half from Afghanistan. This is over five times as many refugees as we served in Fiscal Year 2021, due to both the revival of the US refugee program under the current administration and the influx of arrivals under the Afghan Placement and Assistance (APA) program.

Refugee Workers Have Much to Contribute

Iowans have a proud history of welcoming refugees, stretching back to Governor Robert Ray’s resettlement of Tai Dam refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s. Many employers in the state recognize the benefits of diverse workforces and actively recruit from refugee and immigrant communities.

With the influx of Afghans, companies offering opportunities for career advancement and flexibility around religious observances will have an advantage. Examples of religious accommodation include allowing Muslim employees flexible break times for daily prayer and breaking the fast during Ramadan and permitting them to take off for Eid holidays.

Companies who hire Afghans and refugees also have opportunities to learn about their new employees’ countries of origin. Diversity trainings may be offered for existing employees to better understand and appreciate their co-workers and company events can incorporate cross-cultural exchange. If your company does not have experience working with immigrants, reach out to someone who does. Many groups, including USCRI Des Moines, are happy to provide resources and connect you to refugee employers who can provide insight and best practices.

Ways to Get Involved

There are a variety of ways to support our new Afghan and refugee neighbors. Below are a few ideas for those in the corporate sector. Contact your local resettlement agencies for an up-to-date list of what’s most needed.

  • Promote employee giving and matching funds
  • Set up group service projects and encourage employees to volunteer
  • Organize donation drives
  • Share grant making and community funding opportunities

This season, USCRI Des Moines is launching an end-of-year giving campaign to purchase furniture for new families. Learn more and donate here.

You can also play an important role in advocating for those who sacrificed so much for our country. Advocacy is needed to ensure the U.S. government continues to evacuate at-risk individuals from Afghanistan, and that Afghans entering the country on Humanitarian Parole have the ability to adjust their immigration status through legislation such as the Afghan Adjustment Act. Visit the Evacuate Our Allies advocacy page to contact your members of Congress.

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Laura Thako

Laura Thako is the development associate for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants' Des Moines Field Office (USCRI Des Moines) where she supports the agency's fundraising and community engagement efforts to build local communities of welcome.