ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — Around 30 Asheville and Buncombe area leaders held a joint meeting on Friday to discuss preparations for the expected 40 Afghan refugees arriving.
Stoney Blevins, Buncombe County’s Department of Health and Human Services (BCDHHS) director said he was part of the call where he learned no date is set on arrival.
“One of the things they said in that meeting is that they really will not know,” said Blevins of the Catholic Archdiocese staff who are heading up the effort. “They could receive a call one night and say we need you to pick someone up at the airport tomorrow.”
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Finding housing is the diocese's first priority in a city known for affordable housing challenges.
“Obviously, if anyone’s relocating to Buncombe County, we know housing will probably be the biggest challenge," Blevins said.
BCDHHS services will play a key role when an estimated 40 refugees arrive.
“They’ll come down to health and human services,” said Blevins, adding that each will meet with a staff member to fill out necessary federal forms.
“After that they’ll get assistance, that may include cash up to eight months, as well as Medicaid assistance to cover medical checks and visits for up to eight months.” He added that staff can also facilitate avenues to find the refugees food assistance.
In South Carolina, near Charleston, volunteers are meeting and also preparing to take in refugees.
"Things, such as helping students get into schools, going with them,” Craig Tucker, director of Mission Charleston, described how volunteers will be helping out. “Providing a place where they can get ESL, English as a second language.”
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“They do seem prepared,” said Blevins of Catholic diocese staff. “And also just a tremendous outpouring. The community response is strong, lots of churches and private business owners are stepping-up.”
Thousands of Afghan evacuees could arrive this week, according to federal military officials. Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of U.S. North Command, said there are around 14,000 Afghans overseas, but there was a pause put in place by U.S. Customs after several refugees tested positive for measles and vaccines were completed.
Federal officials have said 80% of refugees are at least partially vaccinated with a COVID-19 shot.