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Alexandria may get Afghan refugees

A small group of Alexandria area friends are raising funds to sponsor a family.

Sarah Richter
Sarah Richter

A small group of Douglas County friends wants to resettle an Afghan refugee family in Alexandria, and they hope that others would launch similar efforts.

"We're hoping to do a family of four or five," said Sarah Richter, who is spearheading the effort. “We’ve all seen how hard our military worked to get Afghans out of there and these were people who helped the military and who are now at risk.”

Richter, a manager at Region 4 South, is working with Carol Wenner, a local marketer and former political candidate, and a handful of other friends, to raise money and find housing for a family. The resettlement cost is $2,275 per family member, and the group has to raise 60% of the total cost before they can submit their application.

According to a Jan. 10 Military.com article, about 19,500 Afghan refugees remain on U.S. military bases, and that more than 55,000 refugees have been resettled in the U.S. over the past four months. Those that remain are at military bases in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Virginia, Indiana and New Mexico.

Richter said she had sympathy for the refugees, many of whom fled Afghanistan as the U.S. pulled out last August, fearing reprisals from the Taliban for helping the U.S. But until she clicked on a health department email, she didn't see a way that helping them was within her power.

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The email detailed a way for small groups to sponsor Afghans, which includes providing housing and other needs for three months until they can adjust to their new community. It's called the Sponsor Circle Program for Aghans, and is organized by the U.S. State Department and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers, Inc.

At first, Richter said, she wondered if getting involved would even be doing an Afghan family a favor, given Minnesota's cold climate and Alexandria's distance from a mosque.

“I just thought, would they be isolated?" she said. "They wouldn’t have a sense of community. Would the people here be kind to them? Would there be instances of harassment?”

After speaking to others with experience in resettling Afghans in rural Minnesota, she realized that the resettlement is a cause that transcends politics. People realize that the newcomers helped U.S. troops and that America can provide a refuge as it did for the Hmong and the South Vietnamese who helped U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.

She also heard that some of the newcomers enjoy rural towns as they get to experience American life and the freedom, and that as they are already approved for work in the U.S., they could help fill labor shortages in Douglas County.

"It’s not like we have to go through the process of getting them a work visa," she said. "Somebody here could get a job very quickly.”

The group hopes to submit an application within the next couple of weeks, and a family could arrive her as soon as February, she said. She said that her group will eventually be collecting household items for the family, but is not prepared to accept such donations yet.

Wenner said she thinks the project will go well.

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“I think the biggest challenge will be transportation and connecting the Afghan family to their religious communities," she said. "But we know that this community is generous and we know they will open their hearts and their minds to welcoming a family that has been through much already.”

She said many people are struggling now, especially young families juggling jobs and childcare, especially during the pandemic, which will add a layer of complexity to resettlement. She said that helping others benefits her, personally.

“It’s important for me to look beyond my own needs and to do for others so I can keep it in perspective that I have so much to be grateful for,” she said.

The First Congregational UCC Church of Alexandria is acting as the group's nonprofit manager, and also donated $2,200 to the effort. The group is also accepting donations via GoFundMe, under Lakes Area Sponsor Circle. Checks can also be made out to Lakes Area Sponsor Circle and sent to Lakes Area Sponsor Circle, c/o Wendy Hyatt, 9373 Country Lane SW, Farwell, MN 56327. All contributions are tax-deductible.

WennerCarol20.jpg
Carol Wenner

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