The Bowling Green-based International Center of Kentucky is in the process of resettling refugees who have already arrived from Afghanistan.  

The agency is seeking housing for singles, couples and families with children.

Executive Director Albert Mbanfu said 140 refugees from Afghanistan have already arrived in Bowling Green and half still need housing.

“We have about 70 in a hotel right now in town and we are seeking rental properties to relocate them to their permanent homes,” he said. 

WKU employees filling welcome bags for Afghan refugees

Nov 8, 2021
Sophia Arjana

About 40 refugees from Afghanistan have recently been resettled in Bowling Green, with a total of 200 expected to arrive in southern Kentucky over the next few months. 

Western Kentucky University Religion Professor Sophia Arjana and other faculty members launched a project to fill welcome bags with essential and comforting items for the new arrivals.  

Arjana said she’s delighted with the outpouring of participation in the project and thinks it symbolizes the welcoming nature of the WKU community.

“It’s a university that serves the public. These people that are coming are going to be part of the community that we live in. And WKU is a central part of the community here. You know, it’s kind of the cornerstone of Bowling Green. And so, I think, that’s part of the reason it’s important.”

Lisa Autry

The resettlement of Afghan refugees in Bowling Green and Owensboro is being delayed by the federal government. 

Originally slated to arrive in Kentucky this month, those refugees now are scheduled to come to the commonwealth in early to mid-October. 

Albert Mbanfu, executive director of the Bowling Green-based International Center of Kentucky, says most refugees bound for the commonwealth are being held at military bases in Virginia where they’re undergoing security vetting and receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.

“They are also trying to make our job a little easier by helping to process employment authorization cards while at the military bases, so when they come out it won’t be long before they are able to go to work," Mbanfu said.

Becca Schimmel

Some 200 Afghan refugees are on their way to parts of Kentucky, including Warren and Daviess counties, after escaping violence in the Taliban-controlled country.

Some will arrive as early as next week in Bowling Green and other communities within a 100 mile radius of the Bowling Green-based International Center of Kentucky. Half of the Afghans are expected to go to Owensboro. 

All of the refugees were already in the process of resettling in the U.S. before the chaos seen at the Kabul airport in recent days

The International Center's executive director, Albert Mbanfu, says many of the refugees helped American forces in the 20-year war by filling a number of roles, including interpreters.

“Many of them have fought side by side with the U.S. military. That’s what people fail to understand," Mbanfu said. "They were on the warfront with the U.S. military guiding them with language and cultural issues.”

Jess Clark | WFPL

Democratic state lawmakers are calling on the federal government to act quickly to get vulnerable Afghans out of their country and into resettlement programs in Kentucky.

“The Afghan people who protected your sons and daughters, who provided us food, contractors, safe passage, information so we could stay safe, now require our support,” Rep. Pamela Stevenson (D-Louisville) said. 

Stevenson is a retired U.S. Airforce Colonel. 

“There’s no way that we can turn our back on a people that said, for 20 years, ‘I’ll risk my life for the promise of America, and I’m not American,’” Stevenson said.

Lawmakers and leaders of refugee aid organizations called for swifter evacuation of Afghans who supported U.S. and ally operations over the last 20 years.

International Center of Kentucky

The Warren County based International Center of Kentucky is expecting an influx of refugees in the next few months. 

Resettlement programs have struggled to help refugees enter the U.S. because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and cuts to admissions made by the Trump administration.

Executive Director of the International Center, Albert Mbanfu, said during a community meeting Wednesday that the center has resettled 111 refugees so far during this federal fiscal year, and is expecting more. 

"June has been a very busy month for the international center, and I think it’s a busy month for all resettlement agencies across the country," Mbanfu said.

Rhonda J. Miller

Spring is blossoming across Kentucky and refugees who have resettled in Bowling Green are planting seeds of vegetables common in their native countries.

A greenhouse is a welcoming place to  bring together people - and plants - from Asia, Africa and America.

The greenhouse at Bowling Green Housing Authority is vibrant with the shiny leaves of butterhead and romaine lettuce, and beans with bright magenta shells.

On a recent spring day, Angele Niyonzima was in the greenhouse planting seeds in small trays.

“It’s almost times to grow, so we come here to start getting ready,” she said. 

Niyonzima was raised in Burundi until she was 14. Then she was in a refugee camp for 10 years in the Central African Republic. She’s 38 years old, has lived in Bowling Green for 14 years, and works at Dart Container in Horse Cave.

Lisa Autry

Kentucky hit a major milestone on Monday when the one-millionth vaccine was administered during a ceremony at the state Capitol.  With an increasing supply of the vaccine, the state has ramped up immunizations with a goal of vaccinating every Kentuckian by the summer.  In communities with large international populations like Bowling Green, part of the challenge is getting refugees and immigrants to roll up their sleeves. 

Understanding COVID-19 and the vaccine has been a bit of a learning curve for all of us, but what if you were new to the U.S. and not a native English speaker?  That’s the scenario for thousands of refugees living in Bowling Green.  Albert Mbanfu heads the Bowling Green-based International Center of Kentucky.  He says groups like his are working to combat a lack of knowledge and false information about the vaccine.

International Center of Kentucky

The refugee resettlement agency for the Bowling Green region is planning to notify the federal government that it’s prepared to accept 500 refugees for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

But officials who work with refugees are predicting the actual number of arrivals will be much lower. 

The International Center of Kentucky gathered input from area leaders in the fields of education, health, housing, and employment to determine the regional capacity for welcoming refugees for the fiscal year Oct. 1, 2021, through September 30, 2022.

Lisa Autry

The Warren County-based International Center of Kentucky is hoping to soon be able to resettle more refugees across the Bowling Green region now that President Biden has taken office. 

Biden has adjusted the number of refugees allowed to settle in the U.S. this federal fiscal year to 62,000, according to the resettlement agency. That’s more than four-times the amount that were resettled under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. 

The International Center of Kentucky is expecting to resettle between 300-450 refugees during the fiscal year starting in October. That would be a significant increase from the 162 the agency resettled during the most recent federal fiscal year. 

DNC video

President-elect Joe Biden is planning to reinforce the nation’s refugee resettlement efforts after a dramatic decrease in admissions under President Trump. A Bowling Green-based refugee resettlement agency is hoping to help many more people once Biden becomes president.

Biden wants to set the refugee admission’s cap to 125,000 and then gradually increase that number over time. Under the Obama administration, 110,000 refugees were allowed to resettle. The Trump administration cut admissions to 15,000, the lowest number of refugees coming into the U.S. on record.

Albert Mbanfu, the executive director of the International Center in Bowling Green, said while Biden’s plan is promising, it won’t have an immediate impact. He said due to the limited number of refugees currently being allowed into the country, the resettlement process has slowed drastically.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to reassert America's commitment to refugees after the Trump White House's slashing of the resettlement program, part of the current president's anti-immigration drive.

In 2016, President Barack Obama aimed to admit 110,000 refugees. President Trump lowered the cap on refugee admissions every year of his presidency. For fiscal year 2021, he set the cap at 15,000, the lowest on record.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Refugee resettlement officials in Bowling Green believe the international community should be among the first to have access to a COVID-19 vaccine once it’s available. 

Executive director of the International Center of Kentucky in Bowling Green, Albert Mbanfu, said the refugee community is at high risk because of their living arrangements and because many are essential workers. Most refugees that the International Center has helped place in jobs were working in processing plants where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred. 

Lisa Autry

Refugee resettlement in Kentucky has been significantly lower over the past 12 months than what was seen during the previous federal fiscal year. The number of refugees arriving in the Commonwealth has decreased by more than 50 percent according to the Warren County based International Center of Kentucky. 

The United States temporary suspended resettlement programs in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Center of Kentucky based didn’t have any new arrivals from March until early August. This year, the center was only able to resettle 162 refugees during the federal fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30. Many of those refugees are from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

geobotticella via Flickr

Out of Rodrigo’s three kids, his middle son is in the most unique situation.

The youngest is a U.S. citizen and the oldest a DACA recipient. But the middle kid is not authorized to be in the country.

“It’s frustrating,” Rodrigo told WPLN News in Spanish. “You don’t want to feel like you are living in the shadows.”

Rodrigo, who didn’t want his last name used because of his immigration status, says his kid has been without a legal status since he arrived in the U.S., and when he was about to apply for DACA in 2017, President Donald Trump announced he was ending the program.