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A troubled reception for Afghan child refugees in West Michigan

A large wooden sign with "Starr" in blue letters and the organization's logo, on grassy lawn in early spring, with fence in background
Leona Gould
The entrance to Starr Commonwealth in Albion in April 2022. Starr hosted some unaccompanied Afghan minors brought to the United States.

The United States was ill-prepared to meet the needs of unaccompanied Afghan children who came to the country as refugees, a ProPublica report found.

When U.S. armed forces left Afghanistan last summer, thousands of people flooded into the airport in Kabul hoping to escape. The United States brought more than 1,400 unaccompanied children to this country. Several hundred of the young refugees ended up in shelters in southwest Michigan.

WMUK Morning Edition host Brian O’Keefe spoke with Detroit based Pro-Publica reporter Anna Clark. She said there have been challenges to meeting the needs of the young Afghan refugees.

She said many of the problems were the result of a system that is designed to serve unaccompanied children from Central America. Clark said shelters often had less than 24 hours’ notice about the arrival of the Afghan refugees, and as result they didn’t have enough translators on hand, accommodations for religious practices, or culturally appropriate food.

Most of the Afghan refugees have now been placed with family, friends or sponsors; but Clark says there is a special obligation to meet the needs of all the young refugees. She says it’s important to remember these are children the government brought to this country.

Brian comes to WMUK after spending nearly 30 years as News Director of a public radio station in the Chicago area. Brian grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and attended Western Kentucky University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting. He started working in public radio while at WKU; and has worked in radio news for more than 35 years. Brian lives on a quiet lake in Barry County with his wife and three dogs. Thanks to his Kentucky roots, he’s an avid collector of bourbon and other varieties of whiskey. Above all else, Brian considers himself a story teller and looks forward to sharing southwest Michigan stories with WMUK’s listeners.