Houston needs to be prepared to absorb Afghan refugees

Jennifer Linscomb, the Texas Refugee Service Director in Houston, spent part of Tuesday preparing to host Afghan refugees who could be housed in the area.

Since the beginning of the fiscal year in October, she said, 324 Afghans with special immigrant visas – that is, they worked for or on behalf of the US government – had been referred to their organization.

Some have already made it from Fort Lee., Virginia, to Texas, where they were temporarily stationed. Others have been “promised” locations in cities that the organization will serve, including Houston. And still others try to overcome bureaucratic hurdles even though they are expected to arrive in the state at some point.

Unfortunately, many have not been able to leave their homeland since the Taliban entered the capital Kabul last weekend and took control of it. RST is planning more arrivals and is working with partners from the private sector to provide housing, among other things.

Historically, Texans – also in religious organizations and in business – have come together to support refugees.

“Many of our former clients are (now) not just small business owners and doing great things in the community, but many of them give back by working for our agencies,” said Linscomb.

However, these are days of uncertainty for many who are democratic and supportive of the US during a 20-year conflict that arose from the 9/11 attacks. The images from Afghanistan of the Taliban rolling into Kabul will haunt Americans for years, and rightly so. They represent a humanitarian catastrophe in which our nation was obviously involved – and to which we have yet to find an adequate response.

To be clear, the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan after almost 20 years of war was not particularly controversial, according to surveys. Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump disagree, but in the 2020 campaign they agreed that it was time to end America’s longest war.

Still, carrying out the withdrawal was a nightmare as the U.S. embassy in Kabul left and thousands of Afghan civilians stranded at Kabul airport desperately hoping for a way out.

How did it happen? That is a good and still unanswered question. At the very least, the Biden government underestimated the capacity of the Taliban – or overestimated the resilience of the larger, US-trained and equipped Afghan military.

“There will be no circumstance where you will see people being lifted from the roof of an embassy,” Biden predicted in July, recalling the hasty evacuation from Saigon in 1975. Biden, who was a US Senator at the time , rejected the possibility of a quick Taliban takeover after the planned US withdrawal.

In an address to the nation on Monday, he tried to explain.

“I know there are concerns as to why we didn’t start evacuating Afghan civilians sooner,” said Biden, a Democrat. “Part of the answer is that some of the Afghans didn’t want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country. And that’s partly because the Afghan government and its supporters prevented us from organizing a mass exodus so as not to create, as they said, a ‘crisis of confidence’. “

Biden said the military will expel more SIV-eligible Afghans and their families in the coming days and extend refugee protection to those who work for the US government or allied non-governmental organizations.

Still, it was an unsatisfactory explanation. And it would have been nice if Biden had vigorously defended the Afghan refugees, especially since his political enemies did the opposite.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that Biden and his radical deputies will use their catastrophic debacle in Afghanistan as an excuse to do to America what Angela Merkel did to Germany and Europe,” tweeted Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who for his hard hand known is the government’s draconian immigration policy, including the Muslim ban and family segregation along the southern border.

Commentator Tucker Carlson, who advocates sharper nativism on his Fox News program, argued similarly.

“If history is a guide – and it’s always a guide – we will see many refugees from Afghanistan settling in our country in the coming months, probably in your neighborhood,” said Carlson.

“So first we invade and then we are attacked,” he sighed. “It’s always the same.”

Similar insidious lines of reasoning were often articulated during the insular America’s early years of the previous administration, and it’s daunting to hear on this one. To this end, it should be noted that even Trump – whose administration negotiated the 2020 deal with the Taliban to withdraw US troops by May 1, 2021 – recognizes the extent of the current crisis.

“Can anyone envision taking our military off before evacuating civilians and others who have been good to our country and are allowed to seek refuge?” Asked the former president in a statement on Monday, responding to the events.

That seems to be the consensus of Americans watching as events unfold. Just as the region took in refugees from Vietnam decades ago after the long war, local aid organizations are preparing to do their part to take in the Afghan refugees who will arrive in the coming weeks and months, despite the ongoing uncertainty.

Jida Nabulsi, CEO of Amaanah, a Houston-based nonprofit that provides services to refugee and immigrant families, said she expected an increase in customers, most of whom are referred to the group orally. The newcomers need shelter and children are pushed into the school year even if they speak little or no English.

“I am honestly just very concerned about her mental health,” added Nabulsi.

“Being a refugee is hard enough,” she continued, adding that trauma was routine for many.

And in this case, she continued, the stress of dislocation was only exacerbated by the speed at which the situation was unraveling: “Your fingers snapped and everything changed.”

One of the ways Houstonians can help, according to proponents, is by expressing their support for Afghan refugees – which, after all, aligns with the values ​​and history of this diverse city.

“I think Houston is proud to be such a multinational, multicultural city,” said Linscomb. “I think there is a lot of pride.”

erica.grieder@chron.com

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