Posted on May 11, 2022

St. Louis Seeking to Boost Population with Afghan Refugees

Jim Salter, Associated Press, May 7, 2022

Inamullah Niazai sits on the front porch step of his red-brick St. Louis home and smiles at the bustle of activity around him — his mother and father chatting in the front yard, his two young daughters munching chocolate ice cream bars.


An aggressive effort in St. Louis is trying to lure Afghan refugees like Niazai. About 600 have arrived so far and another 750 are expected later this year.

Civic leaders are hopeful that over the next few years, thousands more will decide to relocate to the Midwestern city, helping to offset seven decades of population loss and rejuvenate urban neighborhoods — just as the arrival of Bosnian refugees did three decades ago.

{snip} Since last summer, more than 76,000 Afghan refugees have relocated to the U.S. While California and Texas have taken in most of the displaced Afghans, many will eventually go elsewhere.

In the 1990s, St. Louis became America’s most popular landing spot for Bosnians displaced by war in the former Yugoslavia. Among the estimated 300,000 who fled to the U.S., some 40,000 now call St. Louis and the region home.


The Bosnians also provided a badly needed population boost in a city that’s been losing people at an alarming rate, dropping from a peak of over 850,000 in 1950 to just under 300,000 today.

St. Louis’ Afghan Resettlement Initiative is backed by over $1 million in donations and more than 800 volunteers, and it has support from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, the International Institute of St. Louis and other nonprofit groups. Advocates say they’ve received no opposition to their efforts.


St. Louis isn’t the only city with a declining population trying to attract Afghan refugees.

Detroit also reached its population apex in 1950, when 1.85 million people lived there. Today, the population has dropped by two-thirds, to about 640,000.

Detroit corporate and community leaders in April launched the Detroit Refugee Network, with hopes of raising more than $1 million to provide services such as housing, education, transportation and language training. About 250 Afghan refugees have settled in Detroit, with another 400 or so elsewhere in southeastern Michigan.

Like St. Louis, history in Detroit has proven the value immigrants can bring, said Steve Tobocman, executive director of Global Detroit.

Tobocman and Alan Mallach, a senior fellow with the Center for Community Progress, studied two Detroit neighborhoods filled with immigrants from Bangladesh, Yemen, Mexico, and Central and South America. Those two neighborhoods have grown by nearly 50% in the past two decades or so.

The result is less crime, well over 100 new businesses and reductions in home vacancies and tax foreclosures, the study found. Residents surveyed were more satisfied and optimistic than Detroit residents as a whole.