Help for Afghan refugees

At this season of giving, Americans are reaching out to thousands who aided the U.S. and now are arriving with little but the clothes on their backs.

Ihsanullah Patan, a horticulturist and refugee from Afghanistan, meets with a job counselor at the Minnesota Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, Minn.

Since the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 15, some 38,000 Afghan refugees have been placed in communities across 46 U.S. states. Tens of thousands more are being housed on U.S. military bases, awaiting placement. 

These families have fled for their lives from the Taliban. Family members had been assisting U.S. forces in Afghanistan in numerous ways, including as translators, as well as working as humanitarian workers and women’s rights advocates. If they had not escaped, they would have lived in fear of retribution from conquering Taliban forces. 

The refugees have arrived with few possessions.

“We didn’t bring anything but ourselves,” one young male refugee told a Minnesota television station. “Everything was left behind. We just come in one pair of clothes and a pair of shoes – that’s it.” So far, 438 Afghan refugees have arrived in Minnesota, including many families with children. 

Americans across the United States, remembering that they live in a nation of immigrants, are stepping up to help. In Washington state, a group called Viets for Afghans is helping some of the 1,200 Afghans already arrived, with more on the way. The father of Jefferey Vu, a member of the group, fled to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1975 when U.S. troops pulled out at the end of the Vietnam War. “That history sticks with me today. It’s full circle,” Mr. Vu, an engineer at Boeing, told the Los Angeles Times. “In America, you can pay it forward. ... That’s what we hope to do.”

The U.S. government’s efforts to settle Afghan refugees are headed by Operation Allies Welcome. The website offers suggestions on how ordinary Americans can help. They include donating to a local resettlement organization (found by ZIP code on the website) or by giving to the Welcome Fund, which donates to community groups around the country.

Unused airline miles can be donated to cover the cost of bringing Afghan refugees to the U.S. If someone is able to supply temporary housing to a family, the site explains how to go about it. 

Businesses can offer job opportunities or donate supplies such as household goods, diapers, and baby formula. Individuals are shown how they can form sponsor circles in their communities. These groups help refugees with basic tasks, such as finding housing, getting children into school, searching for employment, and myriad other needs. 

Helping fulfills an important promise to an American ally, something both U.S. political parties see as vital. “The United States pledged to support those who served our mission in Afghanistan,” three GOP senators wrote in October. “Failing to do so would lead allies and adversaries alike to call into question our reliability and credibility as a partner in future conflicts.”

Many refugees are being settled in areas that have shrinking populations and labor shortages, away from major cities. “This is not only the right thing to do – it will enrich our communities and strengthen our economy,” Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar told The New York Times:

Qadiri, a new arrival who along with his family has been helped by Mr. Vu, is eager to get started on his new life. “Soon, I need to work,” he says. “That is the American way – work hard and good will happen.”

At this season of giving, reaching out to these newest arrivals beginning the long road to citizenship seems like one of the best gifts possible.

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