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North Dakota to receive 49 Afghan evacuees; unclear if any will settle in Bismarck

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North Dakota state Capitol

The North Dakota state Capitol in Bismarck is offset by flowers in full bloom in June 2018.

North Dakota will receive 49 Afghan evacuees beginning later this month. It's possible some could come to Bismarck, but it doesn't appear likely that will happen immediately.

Most of the "legal and fully vetted" evacuees will resettle in Fargo, according to the state Department of Human Services.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notified the agency of the coming evacuees, some of 37,000 aided through the federally funded Afghan Placement and Assistance Program. 

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday approved a proposal submitted by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the state's refugee resettlement agency, for resettling 49 evacuees, based on services of community organizations that welcome new Americans and teach English as a second language.

The resettlement agency is the only organization in North Dakota authorized by the State Department to receive newly arriving refugees. It provides services mainly in Fargo but can offer services within 100 miles, including Grand Forks.

"LIRS does have a partnership with The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to support the reunification of families in Bismarck, should that opportunity occur," Human Services spokeswoman LuWanna Lawrence said. "At this time, we know the first five individuals will be resettled in Fargo through family ties."

Julie Ramos Lagos, executive director of the immigrant assistance nonprofit Bismarck Global Neighbors, also said only family reunification cases can be resettled in Bismarck.

"Right now we don’t know exactly who is coming or when," she said. "We do have a local Afghan family waiting for their family to be amongst those evacuees, but I don’t believe they are a part of that group as of yet."

Global Neighbors plans to launch a campaign this weekend to collect supplies for Afghan refugees and is looking for possible drop-off points.

Before arriving in the U.S., the evacuees must complete a vetting process involving FBI fingerprint-based background checks and other security screenings, according to Human Services. They also will receive health and medical screenings, a COVID-19 vaccination and authorization to work.

“Like so many North Dakotans with immigrant roots, refugees bring ingenuity and resilience that make our communities and the economy stronger,” Human Services Executive Director Chris Jones said in a statement. “Resettlement provides a life-saving solution for some of the most vulnerable people in the world and it also creates positive benefits for North Dakota.”

North Dakota has resettled 115 Afghan refugees in the past 20 years. Some have become doctors and business owners, "and have held a variety of careers that contribute to North Dakota’s economic well-being," according to Human Services.

Brittany Sachdeva, vice president of operations for Sanford Health in Fargo, said in a statement that “As one of the largest employers in the state, we understand the positive impact those new to our country can have in helping solve our collective workforce challenges. We look forward to welcoming them to North Dakota and encourage them to join our Sanford family." 

Human Services said that North Dakota "will collaborate on the large national effort to support vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan for the past two decades, as they safely resettle in the U.S."

California is projected to take more arrivals than any other state -- more than 5,200 people, according to State Department data for the Afghan Placement and Assistance program obtained by The Associated Press. South Dakota, Hawaii, West Virginia, Wyoming and the District of Columbia are not expected to resettle anyone from the first group of evacuees who fled during the final days of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal last month.

Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, which is the state's refugee resettlement agency, decided not to accept any Afghans after weighing local conditions and its ability to resettle them, the AP reported. Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen, the group’s chief operating officer, also said there isn't much of an Afghan community in South Dakota.

Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem last month expressed reservations about accepting evacuees from Afghanistan. She told KSFY-TV, "We do not want them coming here unless we know they are an ally and a friend, and that they don’t want to destroy this country.”

More information on North Dakota refugee resettlement is available at bit.ly/3tNWpZq.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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