Catholic Charities welcomes first Afghan refugee into mid-Missouri

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Daily Tribune. Read the full story online: Columbia Daily Tribune Website

Lauren Tronstad

Columbia Daily Tribune

Adel Khaffaji, of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, helps an Afghan refugee named Fazal to a donated warm meal. Catholic Charities welcomed Fazal at Columbia Regional Airport on Sunday night. Fazal is the first Afghan refugee to resettle in mid-Missouri.

Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri welcomed the first Afghan refugee into the area Sunday after starting preparations in August.

“We are thrilled to have an arrival from Afghanistan,” Dan Lester, executive director of Catholic Charities, said during a phone interview Wednesday. “This is just the start of, hopefully, many more folks coming to make their new lives here.”

Members of a resettlement team from Catholic Charities, the only resettlement agency in mid-Missouri, greeted a refugee named Fazal at the Columbia Regional Airport with newly hired Pashto-speaking staff. 

Adel Khaffaji of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri delivered a warm donated meal to Fazal’s new home.

Afghan refugees are typically initially housed on one of eight different U.S. military bases. When Catholic Charities gets notice of an arrival, typically several days out, final preparations are completed, including setting up who will greet them and a first meal.

Before notice is even given, Catholic Charities ensures there are places of living secured and set up to house refugees as they make their way into the area. 

The local Catholic Charities agency currently has about 50 refugees awaiting verification of resettlement before they travel to the area. The organization is planning to have a consistent flow of refugees into the area over the next several months. 

“It’s been a lot of hurry up and wait,” Lester said. “To finally have someone here, we can exhale a little bit and just get back into the routine of welcoming newcomers into their new home.”

Catholic Charities is requesting additional support from the community. This support can come from individual volunteers in communities where refugees will be placed. The most significant needs, Lester said, are housing and donations to help fund the resettlement programs.

Other important components of a successful resettlement include ongoing needs like food, clothing, employment, English-language training and orientation to a new community.

Groups, like local churches, can sign up for the community sponsor program to help provide a safe, welcoming experience for all refugees. Volunteers play an integral role in helping refugees become self-sufficient and get off to a good start in their new communities, according to a news release. 

“We are thrilled to be a small part of the national effort to welcome refugees from Afghanistan to their new homes,” Lester said in the release. “This life-saving work is a continuation of the refugee resettlement that we have been blessed to facilitate for more than 40 years in mid-Missouri, and we are eager to welcome more Afghan neighbors to join the more than 4,000 refugees from around the world that we have resettled.”

Catholic Charities has been working with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, its national-level sponsoring agency, since last month in preparation for the arrival of Afghan refugees.