By Vatican News staff writer
Bishops in the US have hailed government efforts to provide refuge for Afghans who assisted US forces during the 20-year-long war in Afghanistan. The Biden administration launched “Operation Allies Refuge,” an initiative to relocate thousands of Afghans who worked as interpreters and translators during the military campaign and who now fear for their safety.
“We are proud to have the opportunity to welcome and assist those who have kept Americans safe in Afghanistan,” said a statement signed by USCCB President Archbishop José Gomez and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, Bishop Mario Dorsonville.
“By working with the United States”, the Bishops said, “each of these individuals has put their lives and those of their family and friends at risk. As they now leave everything behind to begin new lives here, the many sacrifices they’ve made should not go unacknowledged.”
US war in Afganistan
Since 2001, the US has been involved in a military campaign in Afghanistan and later Iraq. During that time thousands of Afghans and Iraqi citizens have assisted US troops, humanitarian personnel, and diplomats in the region by providing interpretation, translation, transportation, security and other vital services, often at great risk to themselves and their families.
In 2006, US Congress authorized a bipartisan humanitarian program to provide Special Immigration Visas (SIV) for these helpers. In July 2021, Congress also passed a bipartisan emergency supplemental appropriations bill, allocating over $1 billion for humanitarian support and assistance for them, as well as authorizing an additional 8,000 visas for the SIV program, and streamlining the US visa application process for at-risk Afghans.
US President Biden announced plans to end the military mission in Afghanistan by September, and has already pulled out most of the US troops from their main Afghan airbase at Bagram, north of Kabul. The White House also announced the emergency relocation to the US of Afghan SIV applicants in the final stages of processing.
The first group of some 200 Afghans promised refuge by the Biden-led administration arrived on American soil on Friday. The evacuees left their country, escaping the clutches of Taliban militants who have targeted interpreters, even killing some of them as retribution for their aid to US troops.
In the statement, the bishops welcomed the opportunity to partner with the government, through Migration and Refugee Services, as well as other Catholic charities, to “ensure the warm welcome, safe relocation, and resettlement of those who have already contributed greatly” to the US. They also applauded Congress for approving the emergency supplemental appropriations bill to help provide protection and welcome for Afghans in danger.
The bishops held up the Church’s teaching that “each person is created in the image and likeness of God and we must uphold the inherent dignity of every person.”
More so, they concluded, Pope Francis has emphasized welcoming the newcomer, saying that “it is an invitation to overcome our fears so as to encounter the other, to welcome, to know and to acknowledge him or her,” and an opportunity “to draw near to the other and see where and how he or she lives.”