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Southern Nevada agencies seek housing, services for Afghan refugees

Refugee resettlement agencies in Southern Nevada are searching for housing and other support as they prepare for Afghan immigrants to come to the state in coming weeks.

The Silver State is projected to resettle 150 Afghan nationals through the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program, a small portion of the 65,000 evacuees who will come to the country after the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan last month. The program paroles them in the U.S. for two years for humanitarian reasons, during which they can apply for special immigration status.

About 50 Afghans are expected to resettle in Southern Nevada and 100 in Northern Nevada, according to a statement Tuesday from the state and Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, which operates the state’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. That’s not including Afghans who may arrive with refugee status or with a special immigrant visa — the program that commonly supports visas for people who have worked or contracted with the U.S. military.

Carisa Lopez-Ramirez, the vice president of immigration and migration services at Catholic Charities, said it’s not yet clear how many refugees and SIV holders will resettle in Nevada, though 11 have arrived since Aug. 1. Most parolees have yet to arrive in Nevada and are currently being vetted and medically screened at one of eight military bases in the U.S., she said.

The ECDC African Community Center is administering the resettlement process for the 50 parolees coming to Southern Nevada. Director Milan Devetak said the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program is new and different than a typical refugee or SIV process because they can enter the country without a visa because of humanitarian reasons.

Resettlement agencies give all types of migrants 30 to 90 days of support through a stipend, housing and basic necessities, case management, support in finding a job and public assistance for some. Case workers also help children enroll in schools and adults enroll in English as a second language classes.

But the new program provides parolees with just a one-time stipend of $1,225, something Devetak said can barely cover the start-up housing costs in Las Vegas.

“Rent has really increased,” he said. “I don’t even know how we’re going to cover that because it’s so much more than it used to be.”

Devetak’s staff used to find two-bedroom apartments for refugee families to rent at about $900 monthly, but recently has only found apartments available for as much as $1,500, he said. Coupled with the difficulties of getting a refugee’s rental application approved because of their lack of credit, work and rental history in the country, it is forcing his staff to come up with creative solutions.

The resettlement agency is looking for anything to help the search: tips of affordable apartments or homes willing to rent to refugees, a spare room to rent or a donor willing to sponsor a family. It’s important to help make them feel at home in a foreign place when they begin with few resources, he said.

“We’re very flexible and open to different ideas,” he said. “The smallest can be preparing a meal for them for that first day to welcome them.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

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