OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of OKC said the first refugee family from Afghanistan is now in Oklahoma. Now, the two charities are working together to ensure the family and future families get settled in.
“We are meeting a historic need. This is a momentous project that we are working on,” said Veronica Laizure, the CAIR Civil Rights Director.
In all, 1,800 Afghan refugees are expected to come in to Oklahoma to escape Taliban Territory after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan last month. Laizure said 1,000 are expected to make new homes in the Oklahoma City area, while 800 are expected to move to the Tulsa area.
“Oklahoma is actually accepting the third largest numbers of refugees in the country behind California and Texas,” said Laizure. “That number could change depending on how many of the people are able to get out of the country, get placed in military bases, to go through the security vetting and the biometrics and things like that, and then will be brought here.”
“We’ve vetted all the folks and we’re excited to welcome them,” Gov. Kevin Stitt told the media earlier this month. “We’re excited to open up our arms…we’re excited to welcome them and show them the Oklahoma standard.”
“I think we’re more than prepared to meet that challenge,” Laizure told KFOR.
The Council for American-Islamic Relations and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City are teaming up to take care of the refugees. They’re also protecting the family’s identities, making sure they’re safe, unable to even tell News 4 where they’re staying.
“These are families that might be wanted by people like the Taliban,” she said. “We’ve already had them leaving a very dangerous and volatile situation. The last thing that we want to do is bring them here to put them in more danger.”
CAIR said Catholic Charities are focusing on resettlement, like housing, immediate medical attention, etc. CAIR said it’s handling essentials like toiletries, food, clothing, toys, school supplies and religious items.
“Things like making sure they have a copy of the Holy Quran, prayer rug, prayer beads so they know their faith will be respected when they come to this country,” Laizure said. “We may only have 24-hours lead time to meet these families at the airport with the needs that they will have. We’re making sure everything is staged and ready so we can pack up a box, ‘Here you go, let’s get you settled.’”
All day, Laizure said she’s been working with volunteers to organize all the essentials. She told News 4 the donations piling up in the CAIR’s office building was just a 1/3 of their haul. Much of it came from Oklahoma organizations.
“The pulled up in front of our office with a literal moving truck full of donated clothing and goods. When I tell you my mind was blown,” she said while describing a donation from The Equity Brewing Company, OKC Library and a clothing rental company.
CAIR said it’s now looking for specific clothing items.
“We happen to be in particular need of pants and trousers for men that aren’t like athletic wear,” Laizure said. “Long sleeved and nicer blouses and tops for women.”
CAIR said it’s also looking for skilled volunteers, like pro bono attorneys to help with immigration work, medical workers that can serve uninsured patients, as well as teachers with special education ESL and ELL training. The organization is also in need of a large warehouse to store all these goods.
“I see this as just another example of the fact that Oklahomans really do know how to take care of each other,” she said.
If you’re interested in volunteering, CAIR said to follow its social media for updates. You can also give monetary donations through it’s website.
Laizure said CAIR plans to roll out a winter drive soon, since many of the families coming in aren’t used to Oklahoma weather.