OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The anticipated arrival of Afghan refugees to Oklahoma finally peaked this week, as the first group arrived at Will Rogers World Airport on Wednesday evening.
Nonprofits in the Oklahoma City area, including CAIR Oklahoma and Catholic Charities Oklahoma City, have been preparing for the arrival of our new neighbors ever since it was announced that Oklahoma would be receiving 1,800 of them.
The nonprofits organized a welcoming committee to meet the Afghan refugees at the airport, along with a box of gifts including prayer rugs, prayer beads, a Quran, snacks and PPE.
KFOR sat down with one of the volunteers, Michael Korenblit, Temple B’Nai Israel, Social Action Committee, to learn what the experience was like.
KFOR: The Afghan refugees’ arrival was expected to be very short notice – about 24 hours ahead of time. How much notice did you actually receive?
Michael Korenblit: “I knew less time than that. I got a call, or a text, from Veronica [Laizure, of CAIR Oklahoma], actually, saying, ‘we have a family coming in. Would you be willing to be on the welcoming committee?’ So I immediately said, ‘of course!'”
“They don’t know what time or the size of at that time, and they said they’re coming. And so everything was kind of put in motion at that point and it was less than 24 hours.”
KFOR: How many Afghan refugees were in this first group?
Michael Korenblit: “It was a family of 7: husband, wife, four boys and one daughter that were coming in.”
“So, it’s just a matter now of us getting them integrated into the system, getting them into English as a second language to immerse them in that so that they can start learning English and getting into the community, finding schools that may have the translators there for the kids. The ages are 14 to 5.”
KFOR: Where did the Afghan refugees come to Oklahoma from?
Michael Korenblit: “They came from Fort Lee in Virginia is where they come. They were there for 28 days is what he said. They were getting processed. They went through Covid tests, then they went through all the vaccines and all of that kind of stuff. They were vetted at the base and stuff so that everything was done so when they were coming here, everything had been done.”
KFOR: Do they speak English?
Michael Korenblit: “No, no. Not at all. Well, the kids didn’t. The father spoke a little, but not a lot, and that’s a great thing with Catholic Charities. They can set up translators. Imad Enchassi was there, who also speaks a number of the languages from Afghanistan that they use there. So they were translating and we were learning about them and they were understanding how welcoming we were for them to be here.”
KFOR: What was their demeanor when they arrived?
Michael Korenblit: “We asked them, ‘are you tired?’ And every one of them said, ‘no!’ They were pretty excited to be here, and so that was their feeling. It was an incredible thing.”
Korenblit said the family is currently staying in an Oklahoma City hotel, which we will not identify for safety reasons. Eventually, the goal is to move them and the other incoming refugees into apartments or homes in the area.
Korenblit said there is plenty of volunteering needed in the future. From joining the welcoming committee, to donating goods such as clothing as furniture, or even translators who speak any of the languages spoken in Afghanistan, your help is needed.
Disclaimer: KFOR’s questions within this article are not verbatim as asked during the interview. We summarized them in an effort to be more succinct.