Welcoming Afghan Refugees to Utah

Utah’s refugee resettlement policies and services are unparalleled across the nation. The Utah Afghan Community Fund (UACF), supported by the Community Foundation of Utah, contributed to Utah’s legacy of hospitality as a community driven emergency response to welcome and support incoming Afghan humanitarian parolees. 

On October 19th of 2021, Governor Spencer Cox announced UACF as a private public initiative to fill critical gaps in services for 765 refugees into Utah communities. “I believe that in Utah, we are people with heart. The people who are coming here are people who have lost everything — who have left everything behind. They desperately need people with heart,” Governor Cox said. 

Inspired to help, thousands of donations were made to the fund from well established philanthropists to first time donors. Donations as small as 32 cents and as large as $200,000 were pooled together. Due to the generous spirit of Utah donors, UACF surpassed its initial fundraising goal by over $200,000. The additional funding was crucial in guiding the 915 refugees, nearly 20% more than originally anticipated, through the legal, medical, and cultural transition of immigration.

UACF worked to address resource gaps in basic needs in addition to bridging cultural barriers for refugees’ long term resettlement. This fund supported a partnership between two of Utah’s primary resettlement agencies, International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services, to provide food, health, and housing services for the refugees. Utah Muslim Civic League provided the cultural bridge necessary to not only provide services but do so in a holistic and comprehensive manner. Fund partners collaborated to ensure that they were not duplicating each other’s efforts and instead coordinated and complimented services to maximize their impact.

UACF’s steering committee represented the diversity of stakeholders in the resettlement process. Chairs Naja Pham Lockwood and Scott Anderson of Zion’s Bank represented the private sector while government representation came from the Department of Workforce Services - Refugee Services Office. Additionally, the leadership of all three resettlement entities were named committee members effectively giving recipient entities the authority to direct funding, which allowed for subject matter expertise, unparalleled resource coordination and synergistic decision making. Successful outcomes and positive testimonials from committee members underscored this new model of fund distribution as a successful model in addressing pressing needs in our community.

The fund’s success is due in part to the trust built between the committee and the Community Foundation of Utah. Rather than disbursing the full amount at once, the committee requested that the Community Foundation hold over $500,000 in anticipation of impending critical needs that would go otherwise unfunded. As these refugees acclimate to their new home, the fund has adapted to provide specialized support such as technology to enable students to engage in online and supplemental learning, furniture and appliances to allow for more welcoming and functional households, legal services to process resettlement related paperwork, and training for culturally sensitive sources of revenue for women who want to contribute to their family income.

UACF Chair Naja Pham Lockwood reflected on her own experience as a refugee when she praised Utah’s approach towards Afghanistan refugee support. “We want to help each other. We care about our neighbors and we want to uplift those in need,” she said. The Utah Afghan Community Fund is a historic achievement that demonstrates Utah’s acceptance of refugees in need of a home.


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