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West Michigan prepares to welcome Afghan refugees

Bethany Christian Services is preparing to assist an unknown number of refugees find housing, work, schooling, support and more.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Bethany Christian Services is preparing to welcome refugees from Afghanistan. It is still unknown at this time how many, or what time they will arrive. 

The organization has been working to set up refugees in West Michigan for decades. Partnering with community groups and national partners, they help prepare them for life in America. That includes finding housing, getting household items, enrolling children in school, helping to find jobs, health appointments and more. 

"The situation in Afghanistan is unique, in that things happened really quickly," said Susan Kragt, branch director for refugee and immigrant services at Bethany Christian. 

"Folks coming out of there are getting evacuated to military basis in the U.S., where they will receive that screening process and determination for refugee status."

The refugees will be vetted, including multiple background checks and health screenings. Kragt said many of the refugees helped American military in Afghanistan, and are women and children. 

"We’re not typically seeing folks directly from this level of conflict," said Kragt, "So, we want to give them the space to process or grieve."

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There are some Afghan refugees already in West Michigan, and Bethany Christian Services are working to find their family members and get them to America safely. 

"These are people who are fleeing the very people who you as also afraid of," said Kragt.

West Michigan has a history of aiding refugees, including welcoming Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s.

"Mixed emotions," said Bing Goei, former director of the Michigan Office of New Americans, "But, I hope we as a country, and we as as state, can be welcoming to these individuals, who to no fault of their own, are in a difficult situation."

RELATED: How you can help Afghan refugees

Goei said he is a refugee himself, and there are many people who came this way into the United States. He said the economy is strong because of immigrant and refugee populations. 

"We have statistics that show they contributed millions and millions of dollars to the local economy," said Goei, "They pay over hundred millions of dollars in state, federal and local tax dollars. And they bring a rich culture."

Goei said he hopes people do not fear refugees, and use West Michigan's "wonderful values and principals" to be compassionate and kind. 

Bethany Christian Services is taking applications for co-sponsors. To further help refugees, they also accept donations and assistance for finding housing.

RELATED VIDEO: How to help Afghan refugees

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