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Influx Of Refugees From Afghanistan, Haiti Could Resettle In Tampa Bay Area

Rahmat Gul
Internally displaced Afghans from northern provinces, who fled their home due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, take refuge in a public park Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.

Organizations from the greater Tampa Bay region are preparing, even though it's difficult to know just how many refugees from Afghanistan and Haiti could land here in the coming months.

Thousands of people are fleeing Afghanistan after Taliban forces took control of Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul, and some of them are expected to land in the Tampa Bay region.

There are already more refugees per capita in Clearwater and Tampa than anywhere else in Florida, but it's hard to know just how many will land in Florida from Afghanistan.

RELATED: Six Florida Cities Rank In Top 100 For Refugee Resettlement

Sylvia Acevedo, the director of refugee and employment programs at Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, said refugees coming here are highly educated, and often served as interpreters or drivers for the U.S. military.

“The reason they get an expedited Special Immigrant Visa is because in doing so they have risked their lives, their safety and that of their families,” Acevedo said.

When they get here, Acevedo says, her organization helps them get a social security card, a state identification card, enroll their children in school, and more.

Acevedo emphasized that refugee is a legal definition, and a person who is in the U.S. lawfully.

“The process to become a refugee is lengthy," Acevedo said. "The screening involves eight or nine international and federal organizations. So by the time someone has come here, they've probably had a more thorough background screening than I've had to start my job here in the Tampa Bay area.”

Acevedo said the greater Tampa Bay region is lucky to have new highly trained, English-speaking residents who can help with some of the labor shortages.

Some 550,000 Afghans have now been internally displaced in the country since the beginning of the year, in addition to 2.9 million Afghans already internally displaced at the end of 2020, according to The UN Refugee Agency.

While the vast majority of Afghans forced to flee their homes remain within the country, more than 5,000 refugees have approached UNHCR or partners this year in neighboring countries, with most reporting having left Afghanistan for security and conflict-related reasons.

“Typically, they select cities where they currently have relatives, or someone that they served with in the U.S. military as an interpreter," Acevedo said. "So, for example, they'll pick the Tampa Bay area, because someone that, you know, one of the military personnel lives here.”

While it’s difficult to know just how many refugees could end up in the region in the coming months, Acevedo said almost a third of the refugees on their calendar next month are Afghani — 10 people.

Refugees are also expected from Haiti after their latest major earthquake.

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.
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