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Updated Apr 23, 2013 - 6:14 am

Group welcomes Afghan refugees to Valley

PHOENIX -- A few weeks after losing her brother-in-law in the attacks on the World Trade Center, Carolyn Manning came across an article about a family that had recently arrived in Phoenix.

The family had fled Afghanistan. After receiving refugee status from the United States, they were sent to Phoenix to begin new lives. Manning discovered they had a lot in common: Big families, religion and victims of terrorism.

"The only major difference was that Carolyn wasn't forced to flee in the middle of the night after her brother was killed," said Megan O'Connor, executive director of the Welcome to America Project.

Refugees arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs. They are set up in an apartment, given a bed and basic eating utensils. After visiting the family from Afghanistan, Manning started collecting donations of household items, toys and school supplies. The idea grew into the Welcome to America Project.

"What we do is not about the furniture," said O'Connor. "We want them to know that Phoenix is a welcoming place, a place where you can make connections and feel safe to practice your religion."

Since 2011, O'Connor said they have helped more 1,200 refugee families. This year, Arizona will welcome more than 3,000 refugees, most of whom will be resettled in Phoenix and Tucson.

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