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'Welcome with our voice, welcome with our votes': Activists discuss what's next for Afghan refugees

"Without the Jacksonville community and their welcoming and generosity, I will never be who I am now," said former refugee and current activist Basma Alawee.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — What's next for refugees from Afghanistan starting new lives in Jacksonville?

Activists say community members and political leaders should welcome all refugees.

"Now we need people to speak up, share their voice," said Basma Alawee, national campaign manager with We Are All America. "We want to make sure that not just the community's stepping in, but also elected officials."

Alawee is a former refugee and knows what Afghan refugees need right now. She and her husband had to flee Iraq more than 10 years ago. 

"This has been really traumatizing to me," Alawee said. "Seeing how Iraq and Afghanistan and many other countries, how invasion and war create refugees. Now it's our moral responsibility to welcome the refugees that we have created.  I am actually challenging our community and challenging the Americans, who I am one of them now, to not just welcome with donation, but welcome with our voice, welcome with our votes."

Alawee says people need to contact city and state politicians to make sure resources for refugees are prioritized. Many Afghan refugees are on temporary visas due to the humanitarian crisis, which Alawee says means they'll need more legal help.

RELATED: '13 empty chairs': Restaurants across First Coast honor troops killed in Afghanistan

"I know like after six months or so they're going to be hit with the trauma and with the reality that they are here," she said. "What next? So how we could be ready to provide resources, to provide community support. The work continues and it's just starting."

The organization Welcoming America is doing events for Welcoming Week, which is Sept.10 through 19. Alawee runs the group WeaveTales, which tells immigrants' stories, and is hosting an event for Welcoming Week on Monday, Sept. 13.

"I was welcomed in the city of Jacksonville by many community leaders who welcomed me with a cup of tea, welcomed me with a dinner, Thanksgiving dinner in their house," Alawee said. "Without the Jacksonville community and their welcoming and generosity, I will never be who I am now."

Lutheran Social Services is so far helping resettle almost 30 Afghan refugees. 

"It feels so bad for people who supported and saved lives of the Americans to see America stepping out and leaving them behind under the Taliban or under the threat of them being killed," said Alawee. "It feels so bad. So we want to make sure that not just also people with a special immigrant visa, but Afghan women, kids, and LGBTQ community members, people who are really going to be under the threat of Taliban, to be evacuated."

Lutheran Social Services is one of the organizations collecting donations, but since they have a lot, leaders say what they really need now is very lightly used furniture and gift cards to InstaCart.

You can drop off donations at Lutheran Social Services during the week at 4615 Philips Highway. You can also visit their website if you want to volunteer. 

Catholic Charities and the Nabi Akram Center are also helping Afghan refugees resettle in Jacksonville. 

Get involved with We Are All America here.

RELATED: Local groups help resettle close to 30 Afghan refugees in Jacksonville

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