As Afghan refugees arrive in Bay Area, South Bay town hall tackles group's most pressing issues

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Efforts are ramping up as lawmakers and local agencies prepare for the wave of Afghan refugees relocating to the Bay Area.

On Wednesday, "Refugees Welcome: Belongings Begins with Us" a South Bay Afghan Refugee Town Hall took on what life might look like for the many resetting in the region.

"We've got some real challenges as we work to try to find room and create a welcoming space here in our community, here in the Bay Area," San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said. "Because in the Bay Area, we of course are challenged already."

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Mayor Liccardo elaborated, adding big challenges to be addressed include affordable housing and homelessness across the Bay Area.

Among those who took part in Wednesday's discussion, Harris Mojadedi with the Afghan Coalition, several state and local agencies, resettlement groups and Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo.

"We have to stay united in our efforts- the pressure, the stories, the names, the cases," Rep. Eshoo told viewers. "And believe that we, in our day and our time, will do what we are really called to do."

Addressing her life experience as a granddaughter of Assyrian and Armenian refugees, Congresswoman Eshoo said she sees her family reflected in the groups of Afghan refugees.

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Speakers discussed their roles in preparing a home for the hundreds of refugees already here and those still to arrive. Few pointed to the Department of Homeland Security's "Operation Allies Welcome," and Welcome.us for helpful resources.

A spokesperson with the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) said between July 30 and September 13, 225 Afghan refugees resettled in the Bay Area. These are people who now call Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties "home." Nearly 300 more are on their way.

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Across the Bay Area, efforts are already underway to prepare to assist and house Afghan refugees.



"These individuals have yet to arrive here in California," California's State Refugee Coordinator Kathy Yang shared. "But are assured through the federal government's pipeline to resettle in California."

Breaking down the numbers, Yang said that as of Monday, September 13, PRM assured 67 cases which equals 296 individuals. She said these numbers only apply to Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders or parolees.

In Santa Clara County, real action is already shaping up. County Supervisors recently voted to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into resettlement services for Afghan refugees.

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"We need to make sure that these families are brought into our physical and mental health care system," County Supervisor Otto Lee said. "And identify any traumas and PTSD. Because if you remember how they were leaving their country, it was a nightmare."

For that reason, ABC7 News is learning many of the refugees in the Bay Area are not yet ready to share their stories. Local resettling agencies explained the families are traumatized and fearful about what speaking out might mean for the relatives they were forced to leave behind.

Mojadedi with the Afghan Coalition emphasized, "The Bay Area has been home to the largest concentration of Afghan refugees in the past. So, we have infrastructure to support them, with all the resources they need."

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