Refugees fleeing violence in Afghanistan and Ukraine arrive in Snohomish County with what they can carry.
That means they don’t have a set of wheels, or a driver’s license.
But they have to get around like everyone else.
“When they left the country, they brought whatever they could carry on their back. That’s what they have,” Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest executive director Van Dinh-Kuno said. “When they arrive to our county, they all need transportation.”
It can take two to three months for a newly arrived refugee proficient in English to get a driver’s license, Dinh-Kuno said. For those who don’t speak English well, it can take a year.
Plus they need time to get a job and save money to buy a vehicle.
Dinh-Kuno’s staff take their clients to medical, social service and work appointments. But they also know supporting refugees’ autonomy through getting around on their own is important, she said.
Bicycles could be part of the answer, and some Snohomish County groups are fixing used bikes and giving them to the new residents.
Other refugees are expected too. President Joe Biden announced plans for the United States to take in up to 100,000 people fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was uncertain how many would relocate to the state, but more Ukranian refugees arrived in Washington than any other state over the past decade, according to The Seattle Times.
The Snohomish County Welcoming Center has helped between 550 and 600 Afghan refugees, said Alessandra Durham with the Snohomish County Executive’s Office.
So far around 100 people from Ukraine have connected with Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest, Dinh-Kuno said.
When the Afghan refugees first arrived, they were getting the basics: clothing, food, health checks, housing. But a couple of teen boys told Durham they’d like bikes. Then adults said they’d also like them.
The last time she saw a list for people who requested bikes and were measured for them, it had at least 75 names.
“It was a need that was not even on our radar,” Durham said. “Bikes are a critical piece in making their families work.”
Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop has given bikes to a couple of groups supporting refugees in the area, including Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest and SCM Medical Missions.
The non-profit bike shop in Everett is hosting work parties to repair 40 children’s bikes. People can volunteer Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings through June 14. Tasks include cleaning bikes and parts, and replacing brakes and chains.
“We’ve got lots of kid bikes piled up that have generously been donated to us,” Sharing Wheels executive director Christy Cowley said. “Anyone can sign up, any level of experience.”
As they get repaired, they’ll go to the groups supporting refugees.
“There is a transporation need because there is a need to work, and to work very, very quickly,” SCM Medical Missions coordinator Pamela Van Swearingen said.
SCM Medical Missions assists refugees in the Puget Sound area and in the Middle East. Van Swearingen, an Edmonds resident, started volunteering there after the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan. Now she is the Renton center’s coordinator for its donations and supplies.
“There is a way and a place to help, and there is need,” Van Swearingen said.
Community Transit recently has given 108 ORCA transit cards to refugees through Volunteers of America of Western Washington, spokesperson Monica Spain said in an email.
It was done through a county program that encourages residents in congested areas to ride transit. Each card has enough for 60 days of unlimited rides in the ORCA network, which includes Community Transit, Everett Transit, Sound Transit, and the Washington State Ferry system.
The transit agency also worked with Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest to teach the new residents about the region’s transit network. After that, they can add money to the transit cards.
How to help
Donate cash-based gift cards to Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest at Everett Community College Rainier Building Room 228, 2000 Tower St.
Volunteer at Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop at 2531 Broadway. Sign up at https://sharingwheels.org/events or call 425-252-6952.
Have a question? Call 425-339-3037 or email email@example.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.