Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR-OK, said his organization was happy to partner with Catholic Charities to welcome the family of seven to Oklahoma City.
“On our end, we were incredibly excited to welcome the family that arrived last night,” he said. “Immediately, they were provided with welcome kits with items like the Quran, PPE, prayer rugs and we also included hygiene items like shampoo, toothbrushes and they were happy with that. They did not travel with a lot of things so it seemed to make their transition easier.”
Imad Enchassi, senior imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, was one of a few people from the metro-area interfaith community chosen to greet the Afghan family upon their arrival at the airport.
“We were standing there at the airport with great anticipation to greet them and sure enough, here they come in traditional clothing, a family with kids,” he said. “You could see both the worry and the hope on the parents’ faces at the same time. Looking at the kids’ faces you could see joy and happiness as we took them down to pick up their luggage.”
Enchassi said he was able to speak to the father of the family because he spoke some Arabic. The imam said an interpreter was made available, as well.
“He (the father) was happy that we were there,” Enchassi said. “People from the interfaith community were there. We brought them their first halal meal in Oklahoma City as we promised them that we would be with them every step of the way.”
Mizar said Catholic Charities is protecting the privacy of the family, thus no pictures were taken upon their arrival and their names are not being made public.
Enchassi said he felt it was important that only a small number of people were assembled to greet the family and the new arrivals’ privacy should be protected.
“We did not want to have a bigger delegation than that,” he said. “We did not want to take any pictures so their family would not be subject to any kind of harm in Afghanistan and also for their safety here.”
Michael Korenblit, co-founder of the Respect Diversity Foundation and the son of Holocaust survivors, also greeted the refugee family.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said. “When I saw them walking through the gate at the airport to be greeted by people out there, in my mind I pictured my grandparents, my mom and dad and all their brothers and sisters walking through that gate 82 years ago that America would have opened its arms to the Jews if they’d been those refugees from all those different countries — so I was excited to see that.”
Korenblit said he is a strong believer in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“One of the rights in there is that people be able to seek asylum to escape persecution because of who they are,” he said.
“To me, it’s just so important that Oklahomans meet up to the ‘Oklahoma Standard’ and not just accept them but welcome them with open arms here and do everything possible to help them be integrated into our society.”
Catholic Charities handling all resettlement
Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City, under the umbrella of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, has been involved with resettling refugees in Oklahoma for close to 50 years. More recently, the organization has done this formally with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a reception and placement agency in the metro area.
Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City and Tulsa are the only two organizations in the state with a refugee resettlement program that is recognized by the federal government.
Traditionally, Catholic Charities-Oklahoma City’s work begins when refugees arrive at the airport after being thoroughly vetted through U.S. government agencies and approved for resettlement in the Oklahoma City area, Mizar said.
The agency’s service to refugees includes such things as connecting them to housing, medical screening, registering children for school, employment and community inculturation. In recent years, arrivals have been primarily from Burma and Vietnam.
More:Oklahoma Republicans divided over Afghan refugees resettling in state
The Most. Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, posted a statement of welcome on the archdiocese’s Facebook page on Thursday.
“Families from Afghanistan have begun arriving in Oklahoma to start a new life,” he wrote.
“We are privileged to have Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City handling all resettlement for the state and acting on our behalf to care for these parents and children. Let us welcome these men and women who worked alongside our troops and show each family what Oklahoma is about.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt and several members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation have said they welcome the displaced refugees to the state.
Mizar said as more arrivals are expected in the coming weeks and months, Catholic Charities-OKC will continue to be the resettlement agency for the state in partnership with CAIR-OK and other organizations to help the refugee families feel welcome and adapt to their new surroundings.
For information about volunteering to assist with the new arrivals, go to https://www.catholiccharitiesok.org/index.php?p=get-help/refugee-services.