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Afghan evacuees, Congolese refugees likely headed to Ogden area, advocates say

By Tim Vandenack - | Oct 5, 2021

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

A contingent from Catholic Community Services met with Weber County commissioners on Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, in Ogden to inform them of plans to settle Afghan and Congolese refugees in the Ogden area next year. From left, Commissioners Gage Froerer, Jim Harvey (in orange) and Scott Jenkins listen. Those participating in the presentation on the other side of the table are, from left, Melissa Freigang, who helps manage Weber County efforts to fight poverty, and CCS reps Aden Batar, Shannon Stephens Sandau and Jennifer Gnagey.

OGDEN — A portion of the 37,000 or so Afghan evacuees headed to the United States — 765 of them to Utah — will likely end up in the Ogden area, according to advocates in Utah who work with the refugee community.

Moreover, additional Congolese refugees may be headed this way, complementing the contingent that originally settled around Ogden from the African nation in 2016.

Aden Batar, migration and refugee services director with Catholic Community Services of Utah, said Monday that the nonprofit group is hoping to settle 650 refugees a year in Utah, including Afghans who have fled Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. military departure from the nation last month and others. Most will likely be placed in the Salt Lake City area, but he’s anticipating locating 100 to 150 of them, a mix of Afghans and Congolese, in the Ogden area in early to mid-2022.

Jennifer Gnagey, who’s aiding CCS in its efforts, said the agency hopes to maintain a stream of refugees to Weber County beyond 2022, locating 50 to 75 here annually in the years to come.

The expansion of the U.S. refugee program under President Joe Biden — to 125,000 refugees in fiscal 2022 — factors in the plans, said Batar. President Donald Trump had whittled the number of refugees who could come to the United States to just 15,000 for fiscal year 2021, down from 110,00 during the administration of President Barack Obama.

Gnagey, who’s also an adjunct professor of economics at Weber State University, said the welcoming atmosphere in Weber County also figures in the plans. “I think one piece of it is the success we had in 2016 and also the overwhelming interest we saw in volunteering (to help the initial contingent of Congolese) in 2016,” she said.

Batar and Gnagey met Monday with Weber County commissioners to spell out their plans and they were to address a gathering later in the day of the Weber Area Council of Governments, or WACOG, a group made up of mayors and other elected officials from across the county. They have already discussed the plans with Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell and also intend to meet with the Ogden City Council on the matter.

“We just want to make sure our officials are informed and we have support,” Batar said.

Gnagey said she and Batar were also to meet with reps from Weber State about initiating an internship program geared to helping the refugees expected to come here.

So far, the response from those informed of the plans has been positive, according to Gnagey and Batar.

“We’ve always been welcoming, this state has, to refugees,” County Commissioner Jim Harvey said in Monday’s meeting with Gnagey and Batar.

Still, commissioners had questions. Commissioner Gage Froerer noted the tight housing market here, wondering where the Afghans and Congolese would live.

Gnagey said landlords who have provided housing for the Congolese already here report a positive experience. Batar said funding to help the newcomers get on their feet would come from the feds, but he also noted that they’d likely be eager to jump into the job market. “I think the folks will take any job that’s offered to them,” he said.

The Standard-Examiner has reported previously on the transition to life here for the contingent from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They say they have learned to navigate the U.S. system and that life here is a welcome change to the war and strife of their native African nation.

Refugees and Afghan evacuees coming to the United States face intense vetting from U.S. authorities, according to Batar.


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