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Wyoming churches take in Afghan refugees after state governor refuses

22 October 2021


Afghan refugee girls watch a football match near the village where they are staying, at FortMcCoy U.S. Army base, Wisconsin, last month

Afghan refugee girls watch a football match near the village where they are staying, at FortMcCoy U.S. Army base, Wisconsin, last month

CHURCHES in Wyoming hope to sponsor Afghan refugees to come and live among them. The churches are stepping in because their state is the only one in the United States not to have a refugee-resettlement programme.

The Episcopalian Bishop of Wyoming, the Rt Revd Paul-Gordon Chandler, said that he was greatly encouraged by the desire among churches to “welcome the stranger”.

In a letter to parishes last week, he said: “Some of the churches in our diocese are in the midst of exploring the possibility of hosting an Afghan refugee family, or of helping in one way or another to support the resettlement of Afghan refugees in our country. For example, the vestry at St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Casper voted unanimously last month to begin researching the process for sponsoring an Afghan family.

“As Wyoming doesn’t have a federally funded refugee resettlement program, it entails some creative thinking, and working closely with Episcopal Migration Ministries, whose mission is this sacred work.”

He said that although this office was not “lobbying” the Governor’s office on the issue, it was having “encouraging conversations”.

Half of the calls to the Governor’s office on the issue were supportive of resettling Afghan refugees in the state, he said. “So there is a lot of good will.”

Wyoming is the only state never to have had a formal refugee-resettlement programme. Wyoming, with 580,000 residents, is the least populous state in the country. It is nearly 84 per cent white, compared with 60 per cent of the US population, according to the US census. Of US residents as a whole, 14 per cent were born in another country. For Wyoming, the percentage is 3.4 per cent.

The Episcopal News Service (ENS) reported that, while several neighbouring western states had offered to receive Afghan families, a spokesman for the Governor of Wyoming, Mark Gordon, had said in August that he had “no interest” in doing the same. But his office told the The Washington Post that the Governor was open to developing a process for faith groups to host evacuees.

The Rector of St Mark’s, in Casper, Wyoming, the Revd Dr Jim Shumard, told ENS: “Most Afghan families want to go where there’s an Afghan community. There’s no community here. We pray other local churches will sponsor other families so that we can build community together.”

President Biden intends to increase to 125,000 the number of refugees who can enter the US in the fiscal year beginning 1 October.

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