Compassion meets Afghan refugees

The West lays out a wider welcoming mat for those fleeing the Taliban than it did in 2015 for fleeing Syrians.

Afghan kids play at a U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, Aug. 30, after being evacuated from Afghanistan.

Six years ago, when tens of thousands of people fled Syria’s conflict, Western countries panicked at the refugee flows. Politics in the United States and Europe turned sharply against migration, boosting a rise in populist politicians. Today, with more than 100,000 Afghans so far airlifted from Kabul after the Taliban’s takeover, the welcome mat is wider.

Instead of panic, there is a compassion. One good sign: On Sunday, nearly 100 countries agreed to keep their doors open to those fleeing Afghanistan.

One big difference from the Syrian refugee crisis is that the West has learned how to better screen an exodus of refugees, which helps lessen fears of terrorists or other dangerous people joining the migration. Another change is a newly formed consensus on the benefits from migrants. In late 2018, the United Nations General Assembly approved the Global Compact on Refugees, a nonbinding agreement to better integrate refugees into host countries, enhance their self-reliance, and aid them in returning to their home countries.

As the U.S. and other NATO powers end an emergency evacuation of Afghans with ties to Western countries, they have held out a carrot to the Taliban. The West will deliver humanitarian aid inside Afghanistan if the Taliban allow further migration. So far the group has agreed. “We have very significant leverage to work with over the weeks and months ahead to incentivize the Taliban to make good on its commitments,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC News.

The West is hardly alone in its hospitality toward Afghans. The tiny Gulf Arab state of Qatar, for example, played a major role as a “lily pad,” or transit point, for about 40% of the evacuees. At least 25 countries are temporarily serving as way stations. And several private groups, many based in the U.S., sent planes to Kabul and helped at-risk Afghans through checkpoints.

The Kabul airlift could be just a prelude. The U.N. refugee agency estimates that 500,000 people will leave Afghanistan by year’s end as the Taliban consolidate their hold. Yet a further exodus could be met with a welcoming heart as more recipient nations learn how to assist those fleeing violence and persecution.

Helping strangers in desperate need can bring something good instead of panic. Most of all, it can serve as a moral counterpoint to any killing of Afghans by the Taliban.

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