Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees are now being settled across the United States, just weeks after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. In fleeing religious persecution, these weary pilgrims are now telling journalists of their ordeals and those left behind. Most of all, they speak of the warm hospitality in the U.S., first at military bases and then by local communities.
“The one thing they wanted Americans to know is how grateful they are for everything that’s been done to protect them and their families,” wrote a reporter for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
For many Afghan nationals, the gratitude can be immediate, according to Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of homeland security.
Upon arriving in the U.S., many Afghan children are handed an American flag and “their fathers instinctively place a hand over their hearts in gratitude and in reverence for what this country has done for them: saved them, provided them a place of refuge and a new home,” he says.
It is not only the refugees who are grateful.
Many if not most of them helped serve U.S. interests in their country following the ouster of the Taliban two decades ago after the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. owes them a dignified welcome, says Jack Markell, a former Delaware governor who is overseeing the federal government’s role in resettling Afghan refugees.
In some communities, Americans are using the Thanksgiving holiday to show their appreciation. “I couldn’t imagine spending Thanksgiving doing anything other than trying to welcome them and make them feel a little bit more at home,” one teenager, Katie Harbaugh, told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Her father, Navy veteran Ken Harbaugh, has rounded up donations from other veterans and local donors to deliver meals to the refugees. “It’s all about welcoming the newcomer,” Mr. Harbaugh said.
These American expressions of gratitude provide a rare moment in the U.S.
“Americans from all walks of life have come forward to say, ‘We understand that these are people who stood with us and that it is time for us to stand with them,’” says Cecilia Muñoz, an organizer of a new nationwide group, Welcome.US, that is mobilizing donors to assist the refugees. “This is a unifying exercise,” she told The Chronicle of Philanthropy. “This is something which is bringing together people who might otherwise not be connected – across political lines and across other things which typically divide us.”
Kindness and hospitality often serve as a great equalizer between strangers. They are a recognition of an underlying goodness, or love in action, that banishes social frictions and binds people. It can be a moment of shared blessings.