The first Afghan refugees arrived in Oklahoma this week, touching down in Oklahoma City late Wednesday.
"We are exceedingly proud to welcome some new neighbors!" Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the refugee resettlement agency, wrote on social media following the arrival of the family of seven.
"Families from Afghanistan have begun arriving in Oklahoma to start a new life," Archbishop Paul Coakley said in a statement. "We are privileged to have Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City handling all resettlement for the state and acting on our behalf to care for these parents and children. Let us welcome these men and women who worked alongside our troops and show each family what Oklahoma is about."
Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said the arrival of the first of roughly 1,800 refugees will benefit both new and current residents.
"There's always this talk of the 'Oklahoma Standard,' and I think people at times debate whether or not that's something we've lived up to," Soltani said Thursday. "But I see this as an opportunity that we can really establish that this is the Oklahoma Standard. It doesn't matter who you are, where you came from, what your religion is, but we recognize that you need a home and we are ready to provide it to you."
Soltani said the family was greeted at the airport by an interfaith welcome committee, who had prepared welcome bags containing items like prayer rugs, hygiene products, clothes and copies of the Quran.
The bags also contained handbooks in the refugees' languages advising them of their civil rights and what to do in the instance of any hate-based incidents.
"As much as I do recognize that Oklahoma has made progress in this regard and, you know, we have improved relationships and I think there's a better understanding of the Islamic faith and the Muslim people in Oklahoma than there was 15 or 20 years, we still have a lot of work to do," Soltani said.
"We will continue to network with these families to, you know, inform them that, 'Hey, there is a real possibility that you may face some type of tensions or hate or discrimination, so in the unfortunate event that that happens, we're here for you,'" Soltani said. "I hope it doesn't, but we have to accept the reality of the situation that it very possibly could happen to some of these people."
Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma, which is expecting to help resettle roughly 800 Afghans in Tulsa and surrounding areas, said the first arrivals at Tulsa International Airport could happen as soon as Friday.