US faith groups unite to help Afghan refugees after military pulls out of the country
Major American religions and denominations, often divided on other major issues,
united behind the effort to help receive an influx of refugees from Afghanistan
after the end of the United States
the longest war and one of the greatest airlifts in history.
Among those preparing to help are Jewish refugee resettlement agencies and Islamic groups; conservative and liberal Protestant churches; and leading Catholic relief organizations, providing everything from food and clothing to legal aid and housing.
“It’s amazing. It’s an interfaith effort that has involved Catholics, Lutherans, Muslims, Jews, Episcopalians … Hindus … as well as non-religious communities who just believe it isn’t. It may not be a matter of faith, but it’s just a matter of who we are as a nation, ”said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The United States and its coalition partners have evacuated more than 100,000 people from Afghanistan since the airlift began on August 14, including more than 5,400 U.S. citizens and many Afghans who assisted the United States during the 20 years war.
The effort by faith groups to help them resettle follows a long history of religious involvement in refugee policy, said Stephanie Nawyn, a sociologist at Michigan State University who focuses on the issues of refugees.
Decades before the establishment of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program in 1980, faith-based organizations advocated for the resettlement of Jewish refugees during World War II. Religious groups have also helped welcome people who fled wars in Vietnam, the Balkans and elsewhere.
In addition to helping distribute government resources, the groups mobilize private assets such as donations and volunteers and work with other private entities to provide supplies and housing, Nawyn said.
U.S. resettlement agencies were dismantled under former President Donald Trump, who slashed refugee admissions every year until they hit an all-time high.
Now the agencies are scrambling to expand their capacities so that they can handle the influx from Afghanistan.
“This is a historic effort, and there are and there have been challenges – especially after the four-year rebound of what was a war on immigration, which decimated the infrastructure for resettling refugees,” O’Mara Vignarajah said.
“Some of our local offices may have relocated 100 families over the past year, and they could now examine 100 families over the next few weeks,” she said.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic charities and other agencies have welcomed Afghan families to U.S. military bases where they are temporarily housed.
A major challenge is finding affordable housing in areas where Afghans have typically resettled, including California and the Washington, DC area.
“I am very concerned about the children, their schooling,” said Bill Canny, executive director of the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services program.
World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization, has helped resettle around 360 Afghans over the past month and expects many more, said Matthew Soerens, the group’s US director of church mobilization.
“These are individuals in many instances who have put their lives and the lives of their families in danger for the people of the United States of America,” he said.
“Now that they face the risk of retaliation and retaliation from the Taliban… I think most Americans of all faith traditions consider it imperative for us to keep our promise,” he added.
Among the evacuees are Afghans who obtained special immigrant visas after working with the United States or NATO as interpreters or in some other capacity; people who have applied for visas but have not yet received them; and those who might have been particularly at risk under the Taliban.
But thousands of other visa-qualified people have been left behind due to a backlog of applications, and church groups have called on President Joe Biden’s administration to bring them safely to the United States.
“Some of the cases we are involved in have been resolved, but many have not,” said Mark Hetfield, chief executive officer of the Jewish refugee agency HIAS, one of nine groups passing through. a contract with the State Department on relocation.
“We have a daughter who was literally shot by the Taliban and is now severely disabled who cannot go out,” he said. “We are aware of many, many more who are trapped – and the United States has left them behind. “
Biden says he’s tasked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to coordinate with international partners to keep the Taliban on their promise of safe passage for those who want to leave in the days to come.
The president has always supported the reception of refugees, cosponsoring the legislation that created the government’s program in 1980. In June, on World Refugee Day, Biden said that “refugee resettlement helps unite families, enriches the fabric of America and improves our position, influence and security in the world.
Ardiane Ademi, director of the Refugee Resettlement Program for Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said he had recently resettled several families who had left Afghanistan before the airlift and was preparing to welcome one. hundreds more.
John Koehlinger, executive director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, said his agency has taken in two families under the special immigrant visa program and has started receiving other evacuees. But other families that the agency was expecting have not yet arrived.
“I hope some or all are on a US military base being processed,” he said.
Ademi and Koehlinger said individuals and local congregations have volunteered to help with the resettlement. Some have worked with refugees before, while others are newcomers motivated by the desperate news from Afghanistan.
“It’s a huge response,” Ademi said.
The humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided personal hygiene items, underwear, sandals and toys to refugees at an air base in Qatar, the spokesperson said. of Doug Anderson Church.
Widely known as the Mormon Church, it also distributes supplies to the thousands of Afghans temporarily housed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
And he’s working with the US military to provide aid to the 10,000 refugees who are expected to arrive at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, from where they will be resettled in communities across the country.
Hala Halabi, national director of refugee facilitation for the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA, said American Muslims flooded the group with calls, emails and texts offering donations, counseling refugees or preparing welcome boxes.
The nonprofit recently furnished three apartments in the Dallas area with everything from “doormats to food in the fridge,” Halabi said, and is collecting supplies ranging from pots and microwaves to pasta, sugar and cleaning supplies as she prepares for additional arrivals.
Beyond the response from American Muslims, Halabi said she was encouraged by the way different faith groups have come together to help the refugees: “It’s amazing from everyone. “
Associated Press reporters Sophia Eppolito in Salt Lake City and Jessie Wardarski and Emily Leshner in New York contributed to this report.