Former US presidents and religious leaders launch organization to help Afghan evacuees


(RNS) – Three former presidents and first ladies have joined with religious leaders, faith-based refugee resettlement agencies and others in supporting a new national organization to facilitate aid to Afghan evacuees arriving in the United States.

RELATED: How to Help Afghans Arriving in the United States After Fleeing the Taliban

Welcome.US launched Tuesday, September 14 to provide a single point of entry for Americans to donate to frontline organizations, welcome families arriving through Airbnb, and find other ways to help Afghans as they rebuild their lives in the States -United after fleeing the Taliban.

“We know that doing the work to welcome our new neighbors is the starting point for the many ways their presence will enrich us all,” Cecilia Muñoz, Welcome.US co-chair, said in a virtual press conference Tuesday morning. .

“This is what we do when we are at our best, and we are proud to have developed an approach to help Americans do this work together.”

Muñoz, who was director of the White House’s Home Policy Council under former President Barack Obama, chairs the organization alongside John Bridgeland, who headed the council under former President George W. Bush.

Obama, Bush, and former President Bill Clinton – along with former First Ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush and former First Lady and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – also serve as honorary co-chairs “to uplift everyone else involved. and remind ourselves that this is our opportunity, in a time of too much division, for a common goal, ”according to the Welcome.US website.

Evacuees from Kabul, Afghanistan wait to board a bus after arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., August 25, 2021 (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)

They are joined by leaders of several faith-based refugee resettlement groups, who form the backbone of the US refugee resettlement program. These groups have been working independently to meet the needs of Afghans arriving on special immigrant visas or on humanitarian parole since the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan last month.

These leaders include Bill Canny, chief of the office of migration and refugee services at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Erol Kekic, senior vice president of Church World Service; Chris Palusky, President and CEO of Bethany Christian Services; Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; and Jenny Yang, Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief.

Since 2009, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has supported around 10,000 Afghans through the SIV program by providing them with housing, employment assistance, medical support, cultural orientation and other services. resettlement, Vignarajah said at the virtual press conference. The group has seen a “huge wave of support” in recent weeks, she said, with more than 45,000 people signing up to volunteer.

Americans are looking for ways to help, she added.

“Americans across the country and from all walks of life… are eager to welcome Afghan allies and refugees as their new neighbors. So many individuals, communities and congregations have a deeply personal connection to this historic effort, and they are once again opening their homes, literally and figuratively, to Afghans in need, ”said Vignarajah.

Bilal Askaryar.  Photo via Welcome.US

Bilal Askaryar. Photo via Welcome.US

Bilal Askaryar, an Afghan American activist who previously worked for Church World Service, shared the story of his family who came to the United States as an asylum seeker in the 1990s after the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan . He remembers the first grade teacher welcoming him and helping him learn English.

Askaryar sees a number of parallels between his experiences and the stories of Afghans who are now coming to the United States, he said.

“But there is a significant difference between when I was a kid and today: I am heartened to see the Welcome.US campaign bringing together… a whole-of-government approach, volunteer agencies, businesses and refugee agencies – so much. smart people who came with a common goal of welcoming our new Afghan neighbors with dignity and compassion, ”he said.

Welcome.US also lists a diverse group of religious leaders as part of its Welcome Council.

Among them are Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal Church; prominent New Age author and alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra; Reverend Cynthia Hale of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Georgia; Walter Kim, head of the National Association of Evangelicals; Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of the Beit Simchat Torah Congregation in New York; Imam Mohamed Magid of the Center of the Muslim Society of the Dulles Region (ADAMS) in Virginia, former head of the Islamic Society of North America; Rabbi Jack Moline, head of the Interfaith Alliance; Reverend Gabe Salguero, leader of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Rabbi David Saperstein, former US Goodwill Ambassador for International Religious Freedom; and Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey.

RELATED: Safe in the United States, Afghan Evacuees Turn to the Families They Left Behind


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