Salem welcomes its first Afghan refugee family

Volunteers with Salem for Refugees welcomed an Afghan family at the Portland International Airport on Tuesday. (Courtesy/ Salem for Refugees)

Salem welcomed its first refugee family from Afghanistan on Tuesday.

The family of ten, a mother, father and their children ages five to 20, will be resettling in the city with the help of Salem for Refugees and Catholic Charities.

When the family arrived at the Portland International Airport on Tuesday, they were greeted by a team of volunteers with Salem for Refugees holding balloons, flowers and signs.

The family told the volunteers they weren’t sure what the response would be when they arrived in America, but were “happy to see they were welcome in this new place,” said Luke Glaze, executive director of Salem for Refugees. 

The family arrived in America as thousands of families have fled from Afghanistan after U.S. troops withdrew from the country last month, ending a 20-year war.

Glaze said the family came to the U.S. through a special immigrant visa for Iraqi and Afghan translators and interpreters who worked for the U.S. military.

He said the family came to Salem because they have a cousin here who is sponsoring them.

The family will stay in their relative’s home until they’re able to find their own place.

Glaze said the family evacuated from Afghanistan the day after bombings at the Kabul Airport that killed 13 U.S. soldiers.

“There were on a plane with hundreds of people and had to pare down the belongings they took because there were limits to weight capacity,” he said.

Glaze said there are tangible ways the Salem community can help the family, either through donations, gift cards or “restart kits” with items like shampoo, deodorant, bedding and cleaning products. Items can be dropped off at 555 Gaines St. N.E. by emailing [email protected] to coordinate a drop off time.

He said housing is always a critical need for families resettling in the area.

He encouraged people to get in contact with any leads on discounted or affordable housing, ideally a three-to-four-bedroom house costing below $2,000 per month in northeast Salem within the boundaries of Yoshikai Elementary School.

Glaze said the number of refugees who are allowed into the county has increased during the Biden administration but the whole infrastructure is having to be rebuilt following the Trump administration capping the number of refugees allowed into the country at a record low.

“It’s been a little but slower than might be expected,” he said, adding that he’s expecting the number of people resettling in Salem to ramp up in the fall as more Afghan families seek refuge.

He said the difference between Afghan families and other refugees who resettle is that they’re coming right out of a high stress, high trauma situation.

Others might have been out of a conflict zone for five to ten years before they have the opportunity to come to America, he said.

“They’re just coming straight out of losing their home and having to flee their country that they may not even be expecting to leave,” he said.

He said Salem for Refugees is expecting three to five more Afghan families to settle in the area in the coming months.

The nonprofit started in 2016 as Salem began seeing more refugee families arrive because escalating housing costs in Portland caused resettlement agencies to look elsewhere. The organization’s goal is to help kids get enrolled in school, teach classes for refugees to get accustomed to American culture and has local police come to speak about local laws, among others.

He said their program is really focused on rapid employment and self-sufficiency.

“As an organization we have been shocked. We knew the community would be supportive. It’s so wonderful to see the support of the community and dropping off donations and connecting. That heart of gratitude from us to the community for their response. We couldn’t take on extra cases without knowing Salem would be behind us in that,” he said.

Disclosure: Property owner Luke Glaze also owns Salem Reporter’s current office space.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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