Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced on Sept. 16 that Utah will welcome over 750 Afghan refugees, with the first group expected to arrive as early as October. Salt Lake City expects to be one of the 19 communities refugees will be resettled into.
“We’re working closely with Utah’s Refugee Services Office, resettlement agencies, humanitarian groups, private sector leaders, Afghans in Utah and engaged citizens to put processes in place to support new arrivals,” Cox said in a statement on Sept. 15. Cox noted the new arrivals will bring unique perspectives and compassion to the state.
Becky Wickstrom, a public information officer for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, spoke confidently about the public being as accepting of new refugees as Cox is.
“Offers of support we have received from so many in the community indicate that so many are welcoming of Afghan refugees into Utah,” Wickstrom said. “We have resettled several Afghans over the years, and they are valuable members of our community.”
Although it was done in another state, research done by Ramya Vijaya, a professor of economics at Stockton University, confirmed Wickstrom’s remarks. She took a sample the size of Philadelphia and found, “The median household income estimates for refugees resettled in the area for seven or more years was $46,126, higher than the median income estimate of $38,253 for the local population.”
In addition to a higher median household income, Vijaya discovered refugees worked at a higher rate than native-born Americans and pumped about $48 million into the local economy in Cleveland, which lead her to conclude, “Refugees don’t undermine the U.S. economy — they energize it.”
Economic value is not the only thing Afghan refugees brought to communities, as Wickstrom pointed out.
“Refugees bring such a valuable worldview based on their experiences,” Wickstrom said. “And they provide the greater community with diversity and inspiring resilience.”
Republicans are still divided on letting Afghan refugees in, which made Cox’s decision a bit puzzling on the surface.
Brittney Bills, an adjunct professor of political science at Salt Lake Community College and member of the Highland City Council, said Cox was not motivated by politics with this decision.
“Governor Cox has always been supportive of refugees,” Bills said. “If you pay attention to the news nationally, some things are just more important than public opinion. I think sometimes there’s clearly a right thing to do and that’s how Governor Cox saw this.”
Bills added that Utah does have a responsibility to provide for the needs of refugees once they take them in, saying: “If we’re going to let people in, it’s only fair to give them the support that they need.”
According to the UN Refugee Agency, many refugees are fleeing overnight and coming to the U.S. in need of resources for survival such as food, shelter, money and medical care. Wickstrom explained that Utah will be providing for many of these needs.
“[Refugees will be given] rent for one or two months, help getting a job, food for one month,” Wickstrom said. “Additionally, they will benefit from the donation of goods including clothes, home needs and school supplies, among other things.”
Donations will go a long way toward helping Afghan refugees, and non-profits such as Catholic Community Services and the Utah Food Bank are available to handle those donations, according to Cox’s statement above.
Being mindful of what you give is important, too.
Bills recalled a time she gave canned food to an African refugee family who did not have a can opener, and added that people should make sure winter coats and blankets they are thinking of donating do not have open holes.
Wickstrom also pointed out two of the best ways Utahns can help: “Raise money for a refugee family, and volunteer to be a tutor for a refugee kid.”
One of the main challenges tied to inviting refugees in is finding a place for them to permanently live. So far, Salt Lake City has been the only city in Utah identified where refugees can relocate thus far. According to Bills, future cities will be those with easy access to public transportation, affordable housing and near job opportunities.