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Texas Prepares For An Influx of Afghan Refugees As U.S. Military Withdraws Troops

Gabriel C. Pérez

At least 100 Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in Austin this week, with more coming later.

Texas is preparing to receive at least 300 refugees fleeing from Afghanistan this week, with more expected in the coming days, according to Refugee Services of Texas, the largest resettlement agency in the state.

The efforts are the latest developments in the fallout of U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Images of civilians crowding airport tarmacs and clinging to U.S. military planes flooded social media feeds Monday, as Taliban forces occupied the capital city of Kabul.

This is just the beginning of what will be "a wave" of Afghan refugees coming to the United States, said Russell Smith, the CEO of Refugee Services of Texas. The agency is expecting at least 100 Afghan refugees in Austin this week, with more in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.

Smith said because the situation is changing rapidly, those numbers could change.

"[This] is wave one," Smith said. "That is just how many we know are coming right now. And over the next few weeks, a lot more will be added to that."

He said it's hard to know exactly who is coming and when, but the agency is expecting to resettle families who had ties to the U.S. military.

"It's a life or death situation over there," Smith said. "They are fleeing because they were translators for us. They were guides. They helped out. And now it is not safe for them."

Refugee Services of Texas is the only resettlement agency in Austin, but it's not the only agency in Texas. When looking at all the agencies doing this work, the state could expect to resettle thousands more in the coming weeks. Reports indicate that 30,000 refugees can be expected nationwide.

"I know all of [the other agencies] are also seeing a pretty dramatic increase," Smith said.

In a press conference on Monday, the Pentagon said it was clearing up to 22,000 spaces at a military base in El Paso to house incoming refugees.

The influx is coming at a time when Texas is just beginning to ramp up its refugee resettlement program again. Under the Trump administration, the number of refugees being resettled by agencies like Refugee Services of Texas dropped "dramatically," Smith said.

"Having this wave as we're gearing up for an increase in resettlement of refugees in general is challenging," Smith said. "But it is something that we have been able to do in the past, something we've done. It's what we're good at."

Copyright 2021 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Riane Roldan