Kansas will take in about 500 Afghan refugees. Roger Marshall and Jake LaTurner raise security concerns.

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas is set to take in nearly 500 refugees from Afghanistan in coming weeks, with more than 60,000 refugees set to come to the United States as a whole. Here, Afghan refugees line up for food in a dining hall at Fort Bliss in New Mexico

Kansas is set to take in nearly 500 refugees from Afghanistan, prompting questions from Republicans in Congress over whether those individuals will be given adequate security screening before arriving in the state.

U.S. State Department data, first obtained by the Associated Press, shows 490 refugees headed to Kansas, fewer than the number destined for each of its neighboring states. It isn't clear where in the Sunflower State individuals will be settled. 

Scores of Afghan nationals are fleeing the country to escape potential retaliation by Taliban forces, who retook control of the country after U.S. military forces withdrew in late August.

More than 60,000 Afghan refugees are expected to be settled in the country in the coming weeks and President Joe Biden has requested billions in emergency funding to support the effort.

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Most refugees, upon arrival in the U.S., will be temporarily housed at U.S. military installations for medical screenings and processing. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has insisted they will be subject to thorough security checks before being allowed on American soil.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall said the state should show "compassion" but called for refugees coming to Kansas to be screened in a third country to "to safeguard our national and state’s security."

“We must protect against those who may wish to do Americans harm and the potential public health threat that accompanies individuals relocating from a nation that has minimal numbers of COVID vaccinations administered and concerning numbers of other infectious diseases such as polio, mumps, rubella, and tuberculosis," Marshall said.

U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, R-Kan., echoed that sentiment in a statement of his own.

"While it's critical that we get Americans home safely and our allies out of Afghanistan, it's also critical that the Biden Administration ensures no corners were cut and every single evacuee entering our country receives a complete and thorough vetting process," LaTurner said.

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It isn't clear whether Kansas has the infrastructure to handle that level of resettlement all at once, as the state has welcomed fewer refugees in recent years.

The largest resettlement organization in the state is Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, which settles roughly 400 individuals a year. Its sister group in southwest Kansas handles resettlement work in that region, as does the International Rescue Committee in the greater Wichita area.

Under Gov. Sam Brownback, the state office handling refugee resettlement — which largely helped serve as a conduit for federal funds and support — was privatized and is handled by a branch of the IRC.

Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.