Groups racing to welcome arriving Afghan refugees to state


This image represents the unity of Oklahoma and Afghanistan, as the state prepares to welcome 1,800 refugees from that country. (PHOTO BY: Robert Viamontes/Gaylord News)

Robert Viamontes

WASHINGTON – Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Oklahoma chapter have joined forces to assist the 1,800 Afghan refugees expected to arrive in the state in the coming months. 

Two weeks ago, the organizations welcomed eight of the initial 1,800 Afghan refugees scheduled to arrive in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in October and November. On Sept. 29, the third Afghan family arrived in the state.
“We are doing this work because of our desire to serve and continue the mission of those 13 brave Americans who lost their lives trying to save and shelter these people as Kabul was falling,” said Patrick Raglow, executive director of the Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City.  

States with major military installations are all accepting large groups of refugees. Oklahoma will welcome the third-highest number of Afghan refugees of any state, behind only California with 5,225 and Texas, 4,481. States with weaker connections are taking far fewer of the intial 37,000 fleeing the abrupt end of the United State’s longest war. 

According to Raglow, the state’s large military presence and issues other states are dealing with currently, such as hurricanes and a surge in migrants at the border, were factors in the state’s offer to accept these Afghan refugees. 

Catholic Charities took the lead in determining the state’s capacity, according to Charlie Hannema, communications chief for Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Hannema said Oklahoma, like other states, submitted the number of refugees it could accommodate to the U.S. State Department.

Krystal Reyes, director of Resilience and Equity in the Tulsa mayor’s office, said 800 of the 1,800 Afghan refugees coming to Oklahoma will arrive in Tulsa..

Reyes said the Flourish Tulsa program will work with several organizations to translate the refugee credentials or those who have educational skills.

Reyes said the City of Tulsa is implementing language access policies to ensure that materials are available in multiple languages, including Afghanistan’s official languages Dari and Pashto. 

Catholic Charities said the refugees will be housed temporarily in hotels and other temporary lodging funded by federal programs such as CARES Act and Emergency Rent and Utility Assistance (ERA). 

Raglow said the goal is to find permanent housing for the refugees in the future near their jobs once their skills are assessed. 

“Those individuals would much rather be in a safe, stable, and thriving Afghanistan, but since that’s not possible, we’re happy to offer them that here,” Raglow said.

CAIR is ramping up to provide assistance with clothing, transportation, translator and legal assistance, according to Adam Soltani, CAIR’s Oklahoma executive director.  

Soltani said CAIR will donate items and hold fundraising drives to support those people as more refugees arrive in the coming months.

Soltani also said the organization is looking to provide legal protection because many refugees are temporarily protected and need help changing their legal status to apply for asylum.

“Catholic Charities does have legal help, but there are too many people, they won’t be able to get to fast enough. So we hope that we can work alongside immigration attorneys to assist these individuals so they can apply to change their legal status here in America and be able to work and go to school,” Soltani said.

Veronica Laizure, CAIR’s civil rights director, said the organization is mainly in charge of providing refugees with a Quran and a prayer rug. The organization is also helping them reach a mosque, attend congregational prayers and have clothing and food suitable for their religious and cultural needs. 

“We’re also working with some local community groups to collect backpacks filled with essential school supplies for the kids who are coming so that each child is ready to get into those classrooms,” Laizure said.

“We are also recruiting volunteers for the mountain of work that needs to be done to help these families get to great safety, like transportation, legal workers, medical workers, teachers, especially those who have ESL experience.” 

Soltani said the U.S. owes the Afghan refugees assistance because they supported Americans during the 20 year war.

“I tell people if they want to know more about these refugees who are coming and their culture and religion, greet them with open arms and with an open mind, and we will not only benefit from learning more about their culture, but we will benefit as they become contributing members of our community,” he said.

Gaylord News is a Washington-based reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories from Gaylord News visit