Washington state has a long, bipartisan history of welcoming refugees fleeing war and persecution, even when other states tried to turn them away. In the late 1970s, Governor Dan Evans was one of the first governors in the nation to accept refugees from Vietnam. In 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee harkened to Evans’ principled stand when he took a vocal stance in support of Syrian refugees as a wave of governors made statements saying they wanted to proclaim their states as “off limits.”
In the past five decades, more than 140,000 people have resettled in Washington. This includes more than 30,000 refugees from over 70 countries who have resettled in Washington state through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program over the last decade.
With the withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, the United States evacuated more than 70,000 people. The Biden administration established Operation Allies Welcome to help resettle Afghan evacuees into local communities across the country, including in Washington. This draws parallels to the drawing parallels to the fall of Vietnam and the evacuation of refugees in the late 1970s with Operation New Arrivals.
After years of low arrivals due to previous federal administration policies and the pandemic, Washington’s refugee resettlement infrastructure is strained. With additional resources provided by the Washington Legislature, the state's Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance is working to stabilize, strengthen, and support the organizations that serve as the welcoming committee for Washington’s newest neighbors.
Building off the work done since then, ORIA will continue to work with communities and organizations to support those seeking refuge in Washington state, from Ukraine and across the world.