The city government of St. Louis is looking to stem 70 years of population loss by attracting Afghan refugees to settle in the city known as the “Gateway to the West.”
According to the Associated Press, the city is mounting an “aggressive effort” to bring in large numbers of Afghans who fled their country after the catastrophic withdrawal of American military forces. More than 76,000 Afghans left their home country after the capital city of Kabul fell to the Taliban last summer after Joe Biden’s ordered retreat.
St. Louis has become a permanent resettlement site for around 600 refugees so far. Another 750 are expected by the end of the year.
City officials and community leaders have expressly cited “seven decades of population loss” as the reason to be hopeful that thousands more of the refugees will decide to settle in St. Louis.
Several officials also point to a surge of Bosnian refugees to the city in the 1990s as having been instrumental in beginning “urban rejuvenation.” St. Louis was the most popular U.S. destination for Bosnians who were forced from their homes by the war in the former nation of Yugoslavia. Out of 300,000 Bosnian refugees who arrived in the U.S. in the 1990s, around 40,000 continue to reside in St. Louis.
A St. Louis Afghan Resettlement Initiative has been established to draw refugees to the city. It has received more than $1 million in donations and more than 800 volunteers have pledged to help the project.
The initiative is supported by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis and several other local nonprofit groups. Advocates for the resettlement initiative report that they have not received opposition to their mission.
International Institute of St. Louis CEO Arrey Obenson said he is confident that new refugee resettlement will improve and revitalize local neighborhoods. He said that the “reality of the circumstances we face” with regard to declining population is that the city must find sources of new settlers in the city.
Attorney Jerry Schlichter is an organizer of and major financial contributor to the initiative. He said the project will help newly arriving refugees find housing and jobs. It will also connect them with other refugees and provide career resources and training. It will also assist with grants for small business startups.
He said the situation presented a “mutual need,” adding that the situation is a “one-time opportunity.” He added that since they are going to end up somewhere, “We should take advantage of it.”