Aug 19, 2021 - News
Colorado welcomes Afghan refugees
A photo of Afghan refugees -- a mother and her two daughters -- sitting alongside their belongings
Afghans wait at Kabul International Airport on Wednesday as thousands look to flee. Photo: Aykut Karadag/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Colorado is preparing to welcome an uptick in refugees fleeing Afghanistan in the coming weeks.

Why it matters: The consequences of the crisis unfolding after the Taliban's swift takeover are quickly rippling around the world and could have lasting impacts for Colorado.

State of play: Democratic Gov. Jared Polis sent President Biden a letter on Wednesday to assure him that Colorado "stands ready" to receive Afghan refugees and urged the president to move fast to rescue and resettle those who are eligible.

A few refugees have already arrived in recent days and are getting assistance from local agencies after receiving special immigration visas, Colorado Department of Human Services spokesperson Madlynn Ruble told Axios, though she could not specify how many.

  • Officials aren't expecting a massive influx of refugees "in the immediate term" in large part because of visa backlogs, but Ruble noted the situation "can change quickly."
  • Meanwhile, the three Colorado agencies that work directly with the federal office of Refugee Resettlement — Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, the International Rescue Committee in Denver and the African Community Center — are positioned to help.
Data: Colorado Department of Human Services. Table: Thomas Oide/Axios

By the numbers: Nearly 300 refugees and others with special visas have come to Colorado since Oct. 1, 2020, the start of fiscal year 2021. Of those, 55% hail from Afghanistan, per state data.

  • Between the start of last October and June 30, nearly 90% of those who fled from Afghanistan to Colorado resettled in the Denver metro area, according to data provided by Denver's Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

Zoom out: The Polis administration says the state is home to more than 60,000 refugees.

  • Estimates show that four new jobs are created for every refugee resettled in the state. Every $1 Colorado invests in refugees generates a $1.23 return on investment in tax revenue.

Upon arrival, refugees will work with one of the three local resettlement agencies to secure basic needs, including housing, food, job placement and case management.

  • Within the first month of resettlement, they also will receive a health screening at one of five clinics, including the Denver Health Refugee Clinic.
  • DHRC medical director Dr. Janine Young tells Axios her staff performs a two-day, "head-to-toe" physical exam, along with numerous other tests, including mental health checks and mammograms.

Context: The expected Afghan arrivals follow a rollback of restrictive Trump-era policies that limited resettlements in Colorado and across the country and were vehemently opposed by Polis.

The big picture: Colorado has allowed refugees for more than 40 years — a position fortified when state lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill in 2018 to create the Refugee Services Program.

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