MOLINE, Ill. — Over the coming weeks and months, Illinois is expected to receive more than 800 resettled Afghan refugees from the first group of evacuees, with around 150 individuals expected to arrive in the Quad Cities.
These are Afghan allies who helped Americans during the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Over the next few weeks, the refugees are being vetted by Homeland Security at Fort McCoy, a Wisconsin military base in Tomah. They'll get vaccinations, including the COVID-19 vaccine, and an employment authorization card before arriving in the Illinois Quad Cities.
"So when they show up, they'll be able to go to work and be part of our community and help to grow our economy here," said U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-IL.
Sen. Duckworth visited Moline on Friday, Sept. 18 to discuss with importance of welcoming the refugees with World Relief Quad Cities, Rock Island Alderman David Greenen and Omidullah Barikzay, an Afghan immigrant.
"The very least we can do is show them the welcoming arms of America," she said. "Welcome them as new Americans. After all, they've sacrificed just about everything that they have in order to help us."
She praised their bravery.
"As a mom, I can't imagine having to pick up my two little girls, my three year old and my six year old, and have to try to race through the Taliban to get to an airport to try to get resettled out of the country, a war torn country," Sen. Duckworth said. "The worry that must come with starting a new life in a new country, with only what you could carry in a single bag to get on that flight, that evacuation flight out of there."
Barikzay was born in Afghanistan and has lived in Rock Island since 2012. He said it's going to take some time for the refugees to adjust to living here.
"I urge everyone to be welcoming and kind. Considering that people that are coming here are from different cultures, some of them might be dressing in their cultural clothes," Barikzay said. "It will take time for them to dress like we dress, so the biggest thing is just be patient with them."
He added that despite having a different culture and speaking a different language, they're no different than the people living here.
According to World Relief Quad Cities Director Laura Fontaine, it's been 15 years since a family has arrived from Afghanistan. They're busing preparing to welcome the refugees.
"We've been collecting donations non-stop," Fontaine said. "I've been working with the cities, the mayors, the county officials, as well as the school districts, just so we kind of know that we are going to need English language, we are going to need help securing housing. We're just kind of laying the groundwork and making sure infrastructure is ready."
Sen. Duckworth is urging the community to come together to help in any way they can.
"You can donate clothes," she said. "You can help furnish an apartment. You can vouch for them to get jobs You can help their kids get in schools. You can help drive them to a doctor's appointment."
Barikzay said it will be nice to have other Afghan families living in the area.
"There is pretty much zero other Afghan families besides ours, so I'm definitely excited to kind of getting more people in here that are all the same culture, same language," he said. "Meeting all those people and kind of helping them, and overall, making friends, you know, my age and things like that that are from similar backgrounds."
The Biden administration has requested funding from Congress to help 65,000 Afghans resettle in the U.S. by the end of the month. 13,000 arrived at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.