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Twin Falls refugee center prepares for Afghan resettlement

Zeze Rwasama, the director of CSI's refugee program, sits at his desk in a black blazer.
Rachel Cohen
/
Boise State Public Radio
Zeze Rwasama is the director of CSI's refugee program.

The College of Southern Idaho’s refugee center is preparing to resettle more people in Twin Falls this year than at any time during the Trump administration. That includes Afghans who recently fled the Taliban.

“We are just ready and excited!” said Zeze Rwasama, the center’s director. He does not know when the first Afghan refugees will arrive in Twin Falls, but it could be as soon as this month.

“We’ve been warned that we should just be ready at any time," Rwasama said.

Fifty Afghans are supposed to come to Twin Falls this fiscal year, which started on Oct. 1. On top of that, 200 people are set to come from countries including Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan.

That’s a lot more than the roughly 60 refugees Twin Falls resettled each of the past four years. It brings the program nearly back to its full capacity of welcoming 300 people annually.

Many refugee families in Twin Falls have been waiting years for the arrival of family members or friends who were set to be approved before the U.S. cut admissions. The Biden administration's September announcement to increase the national refugee cap was a relief to those families, Rwasama said.

“Only that is bringing a smile on their face," he said. "Now is the time with hope.”

The refugee center's funding depends on how many people are scheduled to come. So, for the past few months it's been focused on rebuilding its services that it was forced to shrink with fewer arrivals. Now, with an influx of newcomers on the way, the center has hired at least six new staff members.

One person’s job is to call local landlords.

"We have to be able to find housing for our clients before they arrive," Rwasama said.

That's been a challenge because Twin Falls, like the rest of Idaho, is dealing with a housing crunch, especially for affordable units. The center has been doing outreach to communities on the outskirts of Twin Falls, like Filer and Kimberly, and so far it's been able to identify housing for all refugees who have come to Twin Falls recently, and who are set to arrive in the near future.

Another staffer is reaching out to employers. The goal is to place refugees in jobs as soon as possible. That shouldn’t be too hard, Rwasama said. Companies have been calling again and again these past few years, wondering when more refugees are coming to fill their openings.

The refugee center has already trained mentors to pair with Afghan refugees, and Rwasama encourages community members to get involved in any way they can.

The refugee center occasionally posts needs for donations or volunteers on its Facebook page; it recently shared a Google form specific to Afghan resettlement.

A Twin Falls nonprofit, Everybody House, is also partnering with the refugee center to raise funds and donations for refugees. The organization is also starting a "phone friends" program to connect people in Twin Falls with newly-arrived refugees who might want to practice English or learn more about the community.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio