Sep 1, 2021 - News

Denver ranks among top relocation destinations for Afghan refugees

A photo of an Afghan family being led through an American airport

Afghan refugees are led through a departure terminal on Aug. 31. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The U.S. State Department is recommending Denver as one of 19 cities most suitable for resettling Afghans fleeing the Taliban’s new regime.

The list of preferred locations is posted as part of online instructions for Afghans who are trying to decide where to relocate in the U.S. after receiving Special Immigrant Visas.

Why it matters: Between 1,000 and 1,500 Afghan refugees are now estimated to arrive in Colorado, state officials tell Axios. At least 40 Afghans have arrived since Aug. 1.

  • The Biden administration asked U.S. refugee aid groups to prepare for the arrival of 50,000 Afghan refugees. Colorado typically resettles about 3% of the national total of refugees, says Madlynn Ruble, spokesperson for Colorado Department of Human Services.

Details: Resettlement agencies identified 19 cities across the U.S. as places with "reasonable" cost of living, housing availability, support services and "welcoming" communities with volunteers and resources.

  • In addition to Denver, the other cities include: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Portland and Philadelphia.

What they’re saying: What Denver lacks in housing affordability it makes up for in plenty of other areas — not only its approachable nature and social services, says Jennifer Wilson, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Denver arm.

  • The city's robust and diverse economy offers ample job opportunities, which help counter its high cost of living.
  • As we previously reported, Afghans have resettled in Colorado for decades, meaning the state is home to family members of incoming refugees.
  • The Rocky Mountains offer a connection to the peaked landscape in parts of Afghanistan, helping "people feel at home," Wilson tells Axios.

Yes, but: Despite the readily available support, service providers remain "deeply concerned" that Afghans could be barred from accessing support in the long run.

  • The country’s current immigration program, known as humanitarian parole, gives people temporary permission to enter the U.S. but doesn’t result in permanent immigration status.
  • Most Afghans paroled here will need to apply for asylum or another visa to be eligible for up to five years of services funded by Colorado’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, which includes housing, education, health care, community-building and a path to naturalization.

The big picture: Policymakers could help fix the problem, advocates say.

  • Wilson and other refugee advocates are calling on Congress to expand eligibility for social services; appropriate more money for Afghans; and pass legislation that would allow a quicker pathway to pursue lawful permanent residency and ultimately U.S. citizenship.

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