Arkansas has welcomed nearly double the number of Afghan refugees since it was announced in September. It was initially expected that 98 would come to Arkansas, but 180 are now calling this their new home.
Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Office agreed to settle 49 individuals within 100 miles of Little Rock, while Canopy Northwest Arkansas, which is affiliated with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, will settle the others around the Fayetteville area.
As of mid-January those numbers have nearly doubled.
“There are 77 who we are working with in central Arkansas now, and we’re expecting a family of four to come in the next few weeks, which will bump us up to 81,” said Jennifer Verkamp-Ruthven, director of Catholic Charities Immigration Services.
Hannah Lee, director of community engagement at Canopy Northwest Arkansas, said her organization was asked if they had more capacity because of the overwhelming need.
“We’ve agreed to take more than 100, so we’ve doubled the number we thought we’d have originally.”
Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Office works with the central Arkansas’ interfaith community to directly help the refugee families as well as two Catholic churches, Christ the King Church in Little Rock and Immaculate Conception Church in North Little Rock.
Other faith communities include Islamic Institute of Little Rock, Madina Institute and Mosque, Second Presbyterian Church, Second Baptist Church, Pulaski Heights Methodist Church, First United Methodist, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, St. Margaret Episcopal Church and St. Michael Episcopal Church, all of Little Rock.
“The sponsor teams are working really hard,” Verkamp-Ruthven said. “Without the support of these different congregations, we would not be able to do what it is that we’re doing. That’s for sure. Some (refugees) have already found permanent housing and are looking for employment and enrolling their children in school. We’ve already started the process of English second language (ESL) classes.”
Carmel Hanley, co-leader of the sponsor team at Immaculate Conception Church, which is working with one family, said, “We’ve done pretty good with not ever having done anything like this before. And the parishioners have been so generous with donations and furnishings. We’ve gotten them housing, furnished their whole place, provided clothing for the family and we’re interviewing for some job opportunities.”
Verkamp-Ruthven said she doesn’t expect any more refugees to relocate to central Arkansas in the near future.
“We’ve reached our capacity for now,” she said. “There may be more opportunities in the future, but we’re trying to focus on quality, not quantity. People have gone above and beyond to help, and we don’t want to stretch things too thin.”
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