Turlock has served as a welcoming home for many refugees over the years, and the city will soon receive more from Afghanistan who have been displaced by the Taliban following the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The International Rescue Committee office in Turlock helps refugees from Afghanistan and other countries transition into American life, helping them to find housing, learn English and even earn citizenship. The Taliban takeover has created an influx of Afghan refugees into the area, said site director Vivien Jacob, and the Turlock office works to place them both here and in Modesto.
“Northern California is one of the most welcoming communities in the country when it comes to refugees,” Jacob said. “There’s already a large Afghan population in the area; they have businesses, they have established mosques. When we have new arrivals, they help each other and support each other.”
Thousands of refugees have settled in Turlock over the last decade thanks to help from the IRC. Though the refugees arriving in the city come from a variety of places, such as Syria and African countries like Uganda, a majority of Turlock’s refugees are Special Immigrant Visa holders from Afghanistan. These refugees are primarily men who have worked alongside U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, serving as translators or interpreters.
Since Oct. 1, 2020, the IRC resettled 29 of its 104 total arrivals in Turlock — 75 of that total number were from Afghanistan. Jacob expects that number to grow following the fall of Afghanistan’s government, with the IRC expecting 160 Afghan refugees to be resettled in Modesto and Turlock in the coming weeks and 20 scheduled to arrive in the next few days.
“This population and refugees from other countries go through intensive background checks,” Jacob said. “There is a long process in order to get to that point where you can get a visa and travel to us.”
With many who helped the U.S. military as interpreters and caseworkers still stuck in Afghanistan, Jacob described the situation as a “mess” and believes those who were promised visas in return for their service should have been helped with applications months ago when it was announced the U.S. would be leaving the country.
“The government could have handled this situation much better,” she said. “We knew that they would be evacuating from Afghanistan. The process should have been much smoother than what it is right now.”
The IRC held a town hall in Modesto on Thursday night, answering questions from refugees already in America who have family, friends and loved ones still in Afghanistan.
“They’re watching the news and they’re horrified about the situation,” Jacob said.
The IRC is working with Congressman Josh Harder’s office to locate family and friends of those who live in Turlock and Modesto, hoping to help them unite with their loved ones here. Amidst a housing shortage throughout the state, the IRC is looking for guest houses and other living arrangements for Afghan refugees.
Those who would like to help, volunteer or donate to the IRC can do so by calling 209-667-2378.