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Organizations In Colorado Prepare For Influx Of Refugees From Afghanistan

DENVER (CBS4)- The U.S. Government says 865 refugees from Afghanistan could be coming to Colorado as the nation tries to find homes for those who were able to escape. Organizations in Colorado are gearing up.

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"We find Afghans to be incredibly kind, very hospitable," said Jaime Koehler Blanchard, who directs the refugee program for Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountain. "For the most part people are kind, people are generous, if you go to an Afghan's house or apartment you will be offered tea and you probably will not be able to refuse it."

The number of refugees could vary. The estimate is the result of input from Lutheran Family Services, the International Rescue Committee and the African Community Center. All three are re-settlement agencies in Colorado.

"We work with volunteers, from the community, we work with different communities of faith," Koehler Blanchard explained.

For those arriving, there is a massive life change.

"People are really, really happy to be safe. They're grateful to have the opportunities to be here," said Koehler Blanchard. But harder.

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"Compared to Afghanistan, life is very complicated, absolutely," said Zahid, an Afghan immigrant who arrived in 2015 and asked that his identity be concealed because of family still in Afghanistan. "Leaving a country where you don't have to pay any bills and stuff and then you come over and you're starting from scratch. You don't know what you're doing, where you're going to find work, what you're going to be doing."

Some of that is what organizations help with. Zahid had worked with the US military and left family behind who did as well. A cousin who escaped along with other refugees is being resettled in New Mexico. In a way, Zahid had more time.

"Typically the refugees that we are resettling are a little bit more removed from the conflict that they initially had fled… We are going to have to deal with people who've been fairly recently traumatized and we're ramping up resources in the community to be able to support them," said Koehler Blanchard.

The organizations need people because staffing has been cut in recent years as the number of refugees typically coming in has been about one hundred a year.

For some, it will be not only a change of location but prestige.

"They might have been an engineer or physician or interpreter or you know, they owned their own business," she explained. "It is challenging starting over here and you know a lot of times those credentials don't enable you to get that same type of job, that same level of job in the United States."

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Zahid is working on getting a license to drive a truck to support his wife and children. Life in America has meant enormous adjustment.

"Everybody grew up in a war, so it's really hard, you know," Zahid related.

There are eight military bases doing processing. Refugees are allowed to come to the United States with less red tape. Wait times are far shorter.

"They're getting medical care if they need it, they're getting vaccines that are needed and then there is a process for kind of allocating each case to each particular resettlement agency," said Koehler Blanchard.

There's housing to worry about as well as jobs, language classes and placement for children in schools that organizations like Lutheran Family Services provide. Many have to deal with what they've seen in a country at war for decades.

"Trauma might manifest itself a little bit differently. I think they are resilient and they will make it but need to make sure that we provide the support that they need."

For Zahid, the strain has been high in recent weeks as the country collapsed.

"Mentally I'm very stressed, because of my family back there. A lot of people know that I worked for the US military, my family works for the U.S. military, so that's the biggest reason that I'm stressed."

He's working to try and file the paperwork to help other family members get out. For Zahid, in spite of a transitional difficulty, there are still things that help him rest easy.

"It's still you know, way better for me at least that I'm still alive. And that's the big thing that when I'm sleeping here at night, I'm not scared that someone is going to come here and kill me."

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