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Forum addresses concerns about Afghan refugees settling in Helena

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Posted at 10:14 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-17 13:16:45-05

HELENA — About a hundred people showed up for a meeting on Thursday night hosted by Hands On Global, a non-profit agency that is helping Afghan refugees resettle to Helena.

Hands On Global said earlier this week that about 15 Afghan refugees would resettle to Helena in the coming months; Thursday's meeting was intended to address potential concerns and allow speakers to share their professional perspectives.

Among the speakers at the event were Valerie Hellerman from Hands On Global, Helena mayor Wilmot Collins, military veteran David Oclander, and Lisa Williams, a trauma psychologist.

Speaker listened to questions from the audience and tried to address potential concerns that the audience was likely to have.

A major focus of the meeting was the nationally-highlighted topic of the vetting process.

Mayor Collins, who came to the U.S. as a refugee himself from Liberia, reiterated that those coming to Montana had been fully vetted by the State Department, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, and many others: “...all these agencies. We have the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We have the National Counterterrorism Center. We have the IC, intelligence community. You have the US government. All of these people will have to go, refugees have to go through them, the Afghans will have to go through them,” says Collins.

David Oclander, a retired Army colonel and former strategic planner on the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, said these refugees are coming to America to start a new life.

“The individuals who are coming to the United States have been vetted. They are grateful for what we have done for them and that we're honoring our commitment to them, and they have the potential to be amazing citizens,” says Oclander.

Valerie Hellerman, director of Hands On Global, told the crowd that the refugees helped Americans during the war in Afghanistan and risked much during the two-decade conflict.

“These Afghans in particular, these refugees, have helped Americans, our military. They've worked with NATO. They've put their own lives at great risk and their family's lives at great risk, and so now we want to welcome them to our community and take care of them,” says Hellerman.

Hands On Global says they are collecting household items and clothing for the incoming refugees.