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Ready to welcome: Iowa agencies, social services prepare to accommodate Afghan refugees

Resettlement partners have the capacity to settle approximately 350 people in the short term, according to the Iowa Department of Human Services.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A day after the Biden administration announced Iowa may receive 695 Afghan evacuees, local resettlement agencies are preparing for next steps.

The Des Moines field office for the U.S. Committee For Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) is the biggest resettlement agency in Iowa. Director Kerri True-Funk says right now, they have a lot going on. In the month of September alone, they plan to welcome 54 refugees from countries like Burma, Congo, and Sudan.

"We’re really kind of overwhelmed right now," said True-Funk, looking at the growing pile of donations. "We’ve had folks contacting us to volunteer and so really sometimes we just need a little extra time because we are still welcoming refugees at the same time so it might take us a few days to get back to somebody."

True-Funk says she's thankful the community has stepped up bigtime to donate to families coming to America.

"The community has been very supportive in a lot of different ways," she said. "The donation drives have been excellent."

They're still in need of items like pots and pans as well as twin- and full-sized bedding. Cash donations are the highest need.

Visit here to support USCRI's Iowa resettlement programs

As they collect donations, Iowa DHS' partner organizations like USCRI, Catholic Charities, and Lutheran Services are assessing how many refugees they can accommodate. As of Wednesday, they determined that number to be 350 in the short-term.

"We’ve come to a collective understanding of what our capacity is right now, and that may change in a few months," said True-Funk. "A lot of it is going to depend on how quickly we start getting people here, how quickly we are able to start helping them get jobs, and move into permanent housing."

RELATED: State may receive 695 Afghan evacuees for resettlement

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USCRI's initial resettlement process is a three-month program that includes helping families find and move into an apartment, helping children get into school, and matching people with ESL classes.

After the first three months, most families also begin a three-month job placement program. True-Funk says it has a more-than-90 percent self-sufficiency rate.

"On average, we’re seeing folks getting jobs and being able to not qualify for cash assistance anymore within that six months," she said.

Above all, True-Funk hopes Iowans keep open minds and open hearts when welcoming refugees fleeing from terror.

"The people that are coming are everyday people. They’re citizens of Afghanistan that have a reason to be targeted by terrorist organizations and people within their own country. And a lot of that is because they were supportive of our efforts there," said True-Funk. "I hope Iowa’s history of welcoming and receiving individuals displaced by war, like we did after Vietnam, can continue following this situation."

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