City Council formally welcomes Afghan refugees 'with open arms and open doors' after dozens resettled in Austin this month

City Council members backed a statement welcoming refugees and directing further city resettlement efforts Aug. 26. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
City Council members backed a statement welcoming refugees and directing further city resettlement efforts Aug. 26. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

City Council members backed a statement welcoming refugees and directing further city resettlement efforts Aug. 26. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

Amid the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, Austin City Council on Aug. 26 voted to formally welcome Afghan refugees to the city and asked staff to explore related resettlement efforts.

Details on the actions to be taken based on a resolution sponsored by Mayor Steve Adler were not immediately available, although the city said staff will begin implementing the measure's direction following council's approval. The resolution states that Austin "stands ready to welcome Afghan refugees," and instructs City Manager Spencer Cronk to coordinate at the local, state and federal levels on emergency resettlement as necessary.

“To the refugees, I say, ‘Welcome home.' There’s quite the humanitarian crisis that’s existing right now in that country," Adler said. "Austin has always led in recognizing one of the strengths of our country has been the diversity of people and ideas and cultures that mix together and make who we are us. ... We’re going to welcome them with open arms and open doors."

The resolution was also backed by a majority of the dais prior to its passage via consent Aug. 26. Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison and council members Alison Alter, Leslie Pool and Greg Casar initially signed on to cosponsor the item, and members Kathie Tovo, Mackenzie Kelly and Paige Ellis added their cosponsorship during the meeting.

"It’s a good thing because it’s moral and right and the humanitarian thing to do," Casar said before the vote.

The resolution's passage was also backed by groups including Central Texas Interfaith and Refugee Services of Texas. In addition to expressing support for the measure, Interfaith also requested city attention to housing refugees arriving in town over the weeks ahead and tied that action to the city's affordable housing and homelessness strategy.

"We do ask that in addition to approving this resolution, that the city works quickly on an actionable and specific plan to house new immigrants coming into our community. ... The crisis in Afghanistan and our duty to welcome refugees yet again highlights the immediate need for a bold vision to create a robust program around affordable housing in our city," Interfaith said in a statement.

According to Refugee Services of Texas, Austin has welcomed 35 of the 75 total Afghan Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, holders and family members admitted to Texas during the period of Aug. 1-Aug. 23. Austin has also led Texas cities in bringing SIV recipients and relatives throughout fiscal year 2020-21, with 114 identified as of Aug. 23 and a total of 185 expected to be resettled as of Sept. 30.

"Afghan nationals who cooperated with the U.S. military are in a highly volatile and dangerous situation as the Taliban overruns the country. We have an obligation as Americans to support those who gave everything to help our nation, and we must act now to ensure these refugees are evacuated and transported to safety," sai dChris Kelly, Refugee Services of Texas spokesperson, in a statement. "Austin will become a welcoming home to dozens of these amazing Afghan refugees."

The city's move came as Austin ISD is also preparing to welcome the children of Afghans who worked with the U.S. to the district.
By Ben Thompson

Austin City Hall Reporter

Ben joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2019 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. After spending more than two years covering in The Woodlands area, he moved to Austin in 2021 to cover City Hall and other news throughout the city.


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