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Since the collapse of Kabul, St. Louis region welcomes more than 600 Afghan refugees in 1 year

Much of the work now is job placement, skill building and mental health support.

ST. LOUIS — It's been one year since the collapse of Kabul and the arrival of Afghan refugees to the St. Louis area.

The International Institute, along with the help of 10 other local organizations, has helped more than 600 Afghans make the move.

To show that success, the organization welcomed federal officials from the U.S. Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services, and The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration on Monday.

This comes on the heels of a tremendous turnout at the Festival of Nations this past weekend. 

"We believe we exceeded all past records," CEO and President Arrey Obenson said. "We estimate that we had at least 100,000 people come through each day of the festival. How can we take the feeling that we had at the festival and make it our everyday life in St. Louis?" 

He only hopes build off of that momentum.

"We thought it was important to share with our federal partners who make decisions on immigrants or refugees that come to St. Louis to see not only what we have done but what this community has done," Obenson said.

In 2021, the Institute brought more than 1,000 immigrants to the area, including 600 Afghans.

The plan is to bring more.

"With the capacity that we built, I'm not worried if have 2,000 being sent our way, and even 3,000, we will still be able to welcome to St. Louis," he said.

Obenson said before they move forward, there are several lessons they've learned in the process.

One is to work on engagement.

"We now formed this partnership with T-Mobile where we are providing mobile telephone hot spots to every immigrant family that comes," he said. 

This provides internet connection to up to 10 devices in a 2-year-period.

Another lesson they've learned is dealing with the housing market. 

"We can no longer be dependent on landlords, but we need to work as a community to provide good quality housing that will enable us to welcome even more immigrants to this community," he said. 

Obenson said they are about to release a housing plan.

Beyond that, the goal is to continue empowering those settling in currently.

Much of the work now is job placement, skill building, and mental health support.

"Mental health, be mindful of their journey. They traveled and the experience they have, we are beginning to see an increase in need and building capacity behavioral health support," Obenson said. 

Many are getting services at the International Institute and its partnership with Affinia.

As for job placements, CEO of Greater St. Louis Inc. Jason Hall said this wave of new arrivals is vital for our city.

"Through the institute acting as a clearing house, they find job opportunities whose looking for a certain job, what skills and get them connected with potential employers. These new residents are critical in the next chapter of St. Louis," he said.

The International Institute is preparing for future resettlements from other countries.

Right now, through the Uniting for Ukraine sponsorship program, 1,040 Ukrainian refugees have submitted applications to come to St. Louis.

Currently, the sponsorship program has a 94% approval rate for placement. 

If this trend continues, the St. Louis region can expect more than 900 Ukrainian cases assigned in the coming year.

To donate to the International Institute or volunteer opportunities, click here.

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