WEST JORDAN, Utah — Dozens of newly arrived refugees from Afghanistan gathered at a West Jordan mosque Monday as city and state leaders officially welcomed them to Utah.
The event included speeches and a community dinner as the Utah Afghan-American Coalition and United Afghan-American Coalition lined up food, supplies, and clothing for people to take to their new homes.
But there’s something else the groups want to make sure the men, women and children can find here: Community.
And it started with this big event to bring everyone together.
"If they had any other choice, they would never want to come," said Shubaira Aminzada, president and co-founder of the United Afghan-American Coalition. "But because they had no other option, and to survive they needed to come over, they were forced to do that."
Aminzada knows what these families have faced, fleeing their lives and homes to start over.
"When I came to Utah in 2000, I was two-years-old, and we emigrated for the same exact reason," she explained. "My father actually passed away from being murdered by the Taliban one month before I was born, so it was the same exact situation that happened 20 years ago."
The event's emcee, Col. Randy Watt, is a retired member of the U.S. Army Special Forces who served in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2002, and his own grandfather emigrated from the country in 1911.
Watt talked about how he had an Afghan militia force and number of interpreters working for him during his time serving in the country.
When the situation began to fall apart earlier this year, he said, they reached out. Some had family members stuck in Afghanistan who needed to be rescued.
"I put together a team of retired special forces guys that I've known over the years, some here in Utah, a few on the east coast," Watt said.
He described how they began to think about ways to get people out. Through that process, Watt met Yama Mustafawi, President/CEO of Utah Afghan-American Coalition.
Mustafawi, Watt said, helped them create a ground network.
"Since August, with Yama's help, my group and three other groups have gotten about 400 Afghans out of Afghanistan to Pakistan, to Albania, to Greece to a number of other countries, to make them safe," Watt said.
With 765 Afghans coming to seek safety Utah, the Utah Afghan-American Coalition and United Afghan-American Coalition spent Monday ensuring the first wave of people who have arrived, felt secure and set up for success.
Aminzada said they are hoping to develop a sense of culture and trust, and through Monday's community dinner together, they can help each other out in navigating this new way of life.
"We are really trying to rebuild that community and that safety net that they had at home," she said.
The United Afghan-American Coalition said one question they get from people is asking how they can help. The easiest way is to CLICK HERE to learn the many ways to offer assistance.