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Columbus Could Receive More Afghan Refugees

U.S. soldiers stand guard along the perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. On Monday, the U.S. military and officials focus was on Kabul's airport, where thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed the tarmac and clung to U.S. military planes deployed to fly out staffers of the U.S. Embassy, which shut down Sunday, and others.
Shekib Rahmani
/
AP
U.S. soldiers stand guard along the perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. On Monday, the U.S. military and officials focus was on Kabul's airport, where thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed the tarmac and clung to U.S. military planes deployed to fly out staffers of the U.S. Embassy, which shut down Sunday, and others.

As demand increases, Columbus has been added to a list of cities that could soon become home to more refugees from Afghanistan.

With the collapse of the Afghan government and Taliban taking control, a Central Ohio organization that has helped many Afghans resettle responds.

The Community Refugee & Immigrations Services or CRIS has helped about 80 Afghans find housing in Columbus in the past five years.

Angela Plummer is CRIS's executive director and said that many of the Afghans that CRIS helps have worked alongside members of the U.S. military, typically as interpreters.

“These are people who worked alongside our military, are friends with our men and women who served, who furthered the U.S. mission and can’t be abandoned," Plummer said. "I mean, it would be just so morally bankrupt to leave there now and leave them behind.”

The State Department, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) categorizes most of the Afghan refugees that CRIS assists as Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIVs). Plummer said there are currently 19 “preferred placement” cites that the resettlement agencies and PRM encourage SIVs to move to.

Columbus in the past few days has been added to a proposed list of additional resettlement sites. Plummer said a small number of cities will be added, and it is currently unclear when PRM will announce if Columbus makes the cut.

SIVs are given the option to either select a city of their choosing in order to reunify with a contact in the U.S., pick from the list of preferred placement options, or allow a resettlement agency to choose a location for them. Nearly all SIVs choose the first option, Plummer said. 

However, if Columbus is added to the list of preferred cities, she said that could increase the number of refugees that move to Ohio’s capital. PRM and resettlement agencies are working on ways to encourage SIVs to choose from the preferred list in an effort to ease the caseload for some locations.

In the meantime, CRIS has been coordinating with several Afghans to come to Columbus but with the current chaos in the country, Plummer said departures are on hold.

Advocates have been demanding for a long time that the U.S. government prepare for a smoother transition for refugees than took place in the past week, she said.

“I hope our government will be focused on assuring those that are in danger can get out and do whatever we can to get them out and treat them as humanely as possible and move them on to a final destination where they can rebuild their lives,” Plummer said.

Corrected: August 20, 2021 at 12:08 PM EDT
A previous version of this story stated that 17 additional cities will be added to the preferred placement list, but the list will likely only include a "small number" of cities, according to CRIS.