Afghan evacuees disembark the plane and board a bus after landing at Skopje International Airport, North Macedonia, on Sept. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski, file)

Afghan evacuees disembark the plane and board a bus after landing at Skopje International Airport, North Macedonia, on Sept. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski, file)

‘They are safe here.’ Snohomish County welcomes hundreds of Afghans

The county’s welcoming center has been a hub of services and assistance for migrants fleeing Afghanistan since October.

EVERETT — Amid the Taliban’s rise, more than 300 evacuees from Afghanistan were welcomed to Snohomish County between October and the end of January.

Another 150 were expected by mid-February, advocates say.

Those numbers don’t account for all arrivals from Afghanistan, only those served by a welcoming center the county stood up in October. The increase this month is due to the federal government’s move to resettle all those still staying on U.S. military bases by Feb. 15.

Officials and advocates prefer not to say what places are seeing newfound Afghan communities due to concerns over threats of violence.

Shortly after Taliban forces seized control of the country, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers expected 1,200 Afghans to resettle here. That estimate hasn’t changed as people continue to flee Afghanistan, said Alessandra Durham, a senior policy analyst in the executive’s office.

Officials estimate fewer than 600 Afghans have resettled throughout all of Washington between Oct. 1, 2020 and Sept. 28, 2021, state refugee coordinator Sarah Peterson said in an email. Most arrived in the final months of that period, as the Afghan government collapsed and American forces evacuated.

Under Operation Allies Welcome, nearly 2,600 arrived to the state between Sept. 28 and Feb. 8. That includes an uptick in recent weeks. For example, 191 arrived between Feb. 2 and Feb. 8.

Over the past few years, Washington could expect about 8% of all Afghan arrivals to the United States. Most arrived in King County, with some settling in Snohomish, Pierce and Spokane counties, said Ilene Stohl, of the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Evacuees can arrive in Washington in a few different ways. They can come through local refugee resettlement agencies, community connections or private sponsorships. Or they could leave the military bases they first arrived at voluntarily to resettle without the support of any organization.

What might that first day look like here?

Locals go to the airport to pick up people arriving from Afghanistan and bring them to an extended-stay hotel stocked with food and blankets.

“If this program didn’t exist, we would see people coming into Snohomish County and perhaps entering almost immediately into homelessness,” Durham said.

The goal is to quickly get the arrivals into more stable housing, like an apartment. The longest it has taken is five weeks, she said earlier this month.

In the meantime, the county’s welcoming center, staffed by Volunteers of America and others, can connect them with a “suite of services,” Durham said. Afghan migrants often arrive in Snohomish County with nothing but the clothes on their back.

At the center, they can get clothes and hygiene supplies. Navigators connect them with benefits, like rental assistance or whatever else they may be eligible for. There’s a medical provider onsite for exams and referrals for more comprehensive care, if needed. Another medical team administers COVID-19 vaccines and dental work, one of the most requested services, Durham said.

While there, arrivals can also get a cooked meal made by a local Afghan-owned business and take part in prayer service led by a local imam. Meeting with other Afghans there, they can also build connections with compatriots in a strange new country.

After they leave the welcoming center, Afghan migrants still have help. Local resettlement groups follow up with new arrivals to ensure they’re doing well, said Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest, based at Everett Community College. Those check-ins happen after 30 days, 60 days, 90, 180 and 365.

“They know they are safe here,” Dinh-Kuno said. “They know they have a support system.”

The welcoming center’s exact location hasn’t been disclosed out of fear of threats.

The center’s funding so far has largely come from the county budget and homeless prevention dollars. Earlier this month, Snohomish County got over $2 million in help from a state Afghan assistance program to fund the resettlement of the additional 150 recent arrivals.

Somers, the county council and local advocates also requested money from the state’s legislative delegation in December.

“We believe this critical work is helping to change the trajectory of many newly arrived refugees’ lives as they begin to rebuild in Snohomish County,” they wrote in a letter to legislators.

Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, is one local lawmaker spearheading that effort in Olympia. She said she’s made a request for $5.5 million in state dollars to support the county’s welcoming center. The money would be used for rental assistance and other services for people arriving from Afghanistan. She argued the aid makes both moral and economic sense.

“They’re coming with nothing and need to completely restart their lives,” said Robinson, a former PeaceCorps volunteer with a background in human services. Without the help, the migrants would likely “flounder,” she said.

The county expects a “slower trickle” of Afghans coming to Snohomish County as the economy there collapses under Taliban rule, Durham said. The welcoming center is predicted to stay open until September, at least. If the Legislature approves the $5.5 million, it could stay open for another year.

Most of those coming here are young people, Durham said. So they’ve grown up in a time of great tumult and violence in Afghanistan.

“The fact of the matter is these people have gone through some serious challenges,” Imam Azam Akram, of Monroe, said in a roundtable this month hosted by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. “It’s just generational trauma.”

Yet the arrivals Durham has worked with have been resilient, she said. When officials opened the welcoming center, they planned not to talk to the migrants about work for a few months. But people come to them trying to figure out what they can do to help.

“They had amazing careers back home and unfortunately had to leave them,” she said. “They’re looking for opportunities to become contributing members of our community.”

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Construction continues at the site of the Lake Stevens Costco now slated to open Dec. 2. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
Lake Stevens’ new Costco opening delayed till after Thanksgiving

The new warehouse opening was pushed back to Dec. 2. Meanwhile, it’s still under construction.

Pedestrian hit, hospitalized after crash on Highway 99 in Edmonds

The person was crossing the highway near 238th Street SW. The driver stayed and cooperated with officers, per Edmonds PD.

Cars drive along 76th Avenue West in front of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds eyes speed cameras near three schools

Roads near Edmonds-Woodway High, Chase Lake Elementary and Westgate Elementary could get automated enforcement.

Shoppers walk in and out of Macy’s at Alderwood Mall were Black Friday deals are being advertised on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Go ahead, hit snooze: Most Black Friday deals are online

Braving the stores on Black Friday is still a thing, but more retailers are closed on Thanksgiving.

Beating the heat in their lawn chairs at Lake Roesiger County Park in July 2018, when a hot streak began, were Sonny Taulbee (left) his wife, Carissa and daughter, Ashlyn, 14.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Lake Roesiger property owners to pay fee to clean invasive plants

Snohomish County Council voted 4-1 on a new service charge, dividing the cost among 463 shoreline properties.

Bird scooters lined up along the intersection of Colby Avenue and Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Bird scooters removed from Everett bridge overhang

A prankster, or pranksters, lugged the electrified rides to an area not meant for the public on the Grand Avenue Park Bridge.

Luke Sayler and Claire Murphy stress out while watching the World Cup at the Irishmen Pub as the U.S. nearly gives up a last-minute goal during their 0-0 draw with England on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett fans cheer U.S. in tight World Cup match against England

Fans gathered at the Irishmen pub to watch the U.S. take on England in a World Cup match. The game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Vehicles are parked in front boutique-style businesses on the brick road portion of 270th Street on Friday, July 22, 2022, in Historic West Downtown in Stanwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stanwood voters embrace sales tax to pay for street work

Nearly two-thirds of voters backed a measure to keep the two-tenths of a percent sales tax for maintaining streets, sidewalks and more.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
On site once planned for city hall, Lake Stevens OK’s commercial rezone

The city hopes the Chapel Hill property will be developed to will bring jobs. Locals say they’d be better served with a public park.

Most Read