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By the time this column is published, 21 (out of a currently anticipated total of 75 for this year) Afghani individuals will have been resettled in Missoula.These individuals — comprising single adults, couples, and families — are but just a fraction of the 225 refugees that will be resettled in Missoula this year — a number that we can and should only expect to grow as mounting instability drives massive increase in forced migration around the globe.

We write as concerned community members engaged with the volunteer-led nonprofit organization Gallatin Refugee Connections (GRC), which serves the Bozeman area by working to foster and sustain a welcoming environment for refugees and beyond. Through our work and community relationships, it has been incredibly heartening to tap into deep and wide support held by so many in this community. Most recently, this includes the many who have reached out expressing concern and interest in receiving and supporting Afghanis and their families who provided support to the U.S. military over the past 20 years.

This sentiment was shared in an Oct. 3 letter to the editor published in this paper. To echo author Tom Proudfoot’s eloquent and succinct words advocating for community support for Afghan refugees, “we owe a debt to these people whose lives have been upended and have nothing left but hope. We must step up for them as they did for us and offer some of these families the opportunity to resettle here in the Gallatin Valley.”

Refugees need what everyone needs: affordable housing and health care, educational opportunities, transportation options, and to support all that and more, a good job. The International Rescue Committee in Missoula (a branch of one of nine nonprofits sanctioned by the state department to resettle refugees), working in tandem with Soft Landing Missoula, has and continues to provide temporary resettlement assistance of this kind to refugees from Syria, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea and now, Afghanistan.

What could the Bozeman community do to support a similar resettlement effort in the Gallatin Valley? Newly arrived Afghanis have free will to remain in Missoula and benefit from the well-developed support system available to them there while they work toward sufficient independence. (In fact, two of the first Afghanis to arrive to Missoula came already having secured employment!) Bozeman holds abundant resources, good will, and compassion — and plenty of employment opportunities for workers of all skills — qualifying it as a viable community to receive these individuals. We also acknowledge that it might seem counterintuitive to expect the Bozeman community to embrace the opportunity to resettle refugees when our local health care facilities are strained by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and affordable housing for local workers and their families is in short supply.

Still, imagine it we must, in the most positive ways possible. Refugees bring knowledge, skills, and cultural gifts. Their dependency on social services is rigorously designed to be temporary. Refugees will enrich our community, as they have done in Missoula, in Twin Falls, Idaho (where the Chobani yogurt factory employs hundreds of refugees), in Boise and next door in North Dakota (which, for part of the last decade, resettled the most refugees per capita of any state). Under a newly established state department effort called “community co-sponsorship,” communities beyond those that are official established to resettle refugees will be able to receive Afghanis, including Bozeman. This process will ensure that arriving individuals will have available to them the critical community support and social services for a successful start.

We invite our fellow Bozeman community members to consider both the moral imperative as well as the tangible benefits of welcoming and supporting those forced to flee Afghanistan, or whatever their home country might be. It is up to us, as a community, to fostering a supportive and welcoming new home for these individuals and families to both partake in as well as contribute to.

*Note that we refer to these resettled Afghanis as refugees herein, although technically they currently hold a unique legal status related to but distinct from refugees to allow for their expedited resettlement. These individuals are nonetheless subject to thorough vetting and processing requirements and, unlike refugees, will be required to undergo further intensive process in order to secure immigration status that permits them to remain in the U.S. beyond an initial two-year period. For more information on the legal status determinations, visit https://bit.ly/3b7KkWi.

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Lindsay Rider is a board member and Stephen Maly is a volunteer with Gallatin Refugee Connections.

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