Refugees come to Roanoke: Local charities offering safe space for those escaping Afghanistan

Charities are helping families learn English, find jobs, and safely transition to life in America.
Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 9:16 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Multiple agencies in Roanoke are helping place refugees from Afghanistan as community members are coming together to donate food and linens, and find housing accommodations for families escaping the Taliban’s takeover.

Organizers from charities part of the Refugee Resettlement Program say just over 50 refugees have moved to the area as of Thursday night.

“They’re coming here very quickly with very little, and so that is a lot of what we’re doing now is making sure we’re reaching out to the community,” says Marnie Mills, Mission Advancement Associate, Commonwealth Catholic Charities.

The Roanoke location has started a wish list for people to donate goods to families.

The agency has been working with the federal government for decades to set up refugees for success.

“Our job here is when they arrive to make sure that we have housing for them, to make sure we find them employment, to get their children in school, we provide cultural orientation for them,” adds Mills.

Friendship House Roanoke is also part of the commonwealth’s program helping to find refugee housing

Executive Director Aaron Dowdy says having a network of local businesses and parishes is a huge help, especially when the area is as compassionate as the Roanoke Valley.

“These refugees who come in are usually coming with a backpack and just the clothes on their bodies,” says Dowdy. “We have a small space in our facility that we turned into an apartment and we started furnishing that and welcoming families as they come into the country, and then when that apartment is full as it often is, we’ll get on the phone and start emailing churches and friends and volunteers to see if they have space available.”

Friendship House has helped dozens of families the past few years, connecting them with residents willing to make room and welcome them to a whole new world.

“We started crying as we started seeing what was happening, and we’ve gotten to know several Afghan families in Roanoke and consider them are friends, and just to hear the struggles they’re going through right now, to have family and friends that are scared for their lives or in some cases even hiding because they know that they’re at risk, it breaks your heart,” adds Dowdy. “We should be welcoming them and loving them. That’s the history of our country, right? Is that at some point we’re at the same position coming to this country and we should be loving our neighbors.”

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