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Update: Afghan Community Fund raises more than a million for Utah refugees

Dec 22, 2021, 7:53 AM | Updated: 8:31 am
afghan community fund helps refugees arriving in utah - small boy holds drawing...
Yaser, 9, a new arrival from Afghanistan, shows his artwork to volunteers who have come to visit the hotel where he’s staying with his family in West Valley City on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Photo: Josh Tilton, KSL Podcasts

SALT LAKE CITY — In an update to a story KSL first reported earlier this month, a special fund created to help Afghan refugees find community in Utah has raised more than a million dollars just two months after its creation. 

Gov. Spencer Cox told the KSL and Deseret News editorial boards Tuesday the Afghan Community Fund collected more than $1.1 million since mid-October, though he acknowledged an unprecedented level of need. 

Overwhelming need faces Afghan Community Fund

According to Cox, Utah’s two refugee resettlement groups have been understandably overwhelmed. In the last three months, they received as many refugees in Utah as in the past couple of years combined. 

“They’ve had to ramp up very quickly, and they’re helping a lot of people in a short amount of time,” Cox said. 

The money helps cover basic needs, as many Afghan refugees arrive in Utah with nothing more than the clothes they wear. Nazifa Rajabi, who came to Utah from Afghanistan 20 years ago, recalled the struggle. 

“It’s hard to build a life here. Right? They’re starting from zero,” she told KSL Podcasts producer Andrea Smardon earlier this month. “There (are) a lot of a needs to run a household.” 

Afghan refugees help ease transition for new arrivals

Members of Utah’s Afghan community, like Rajabi, provide critical support, according to Cox. 

“We’re trying to pair them up in ways that can be very helpful because it is disruptive — even if they didn’t still have families and those issues over there, just going to a new country, new culture is incredibly disruptive and difficult,” Cox said. 

For example, he said, Afghan natives living in Utah can help state officials provide the right kind of food that newly-arriving refugees will need. 

The funding also helps Utah officials bridge the gaps with respect to mental health resources. 

“There are also some cultural pieces of that,” Cox said. “Like a willingness to ask for help, or to seek out those types of services.” 

“The tap just got shut off” 

Cox said in addition to helping meet basic needs, the Afghan Community Fund will help with more complicated needs, such as legal aid for those whose families remain in Afghanistan. 

Utah may fare better than other states because the state boasts two refugee resettlement agencies, Cox added. However, those agencies find themselves playing catch up after years of cutbacks. 

“We’re one of the only states in the nation that has two resettlement agencies. It’s a big deal,” he said. “We were leading the nation when it comes to refugee resettlement and then the tap just got shut off for about four years. And so, they’ve had to ramp up very quickly and they’re helping a lot of people in a short amount of time . . . We’re trying to provide them the resources to help work through that.” 

Learn more about the Afghan Community fund here

Read more: 

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Update: Afghan Community Fund raises more than a million for Utah refugees