A call to assist Afghan refugees

Pope Francis issued his 2021 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message on May 3. The annual observance is slated for Sept. 27. Titled “Towards An Ever Wider ‘We,’” the pope’s message calls for Catholics to work together “to make the church become evermore inclusive as she carries out the mission entrusted to the apostles by Jesus Christ.”

That mission includes outreach to people on the peripheries, including migrants and refugees, “to whom the Lord wants his love to be manifested and his salvation preached.”

Three weeks before the pope’s message was issued, President Joe Biden, on April 14, announced that all troops would be removed from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. It was “time to end the forever war,” Biden said. (On July 8, Biden moved up the timeline for troop withdrawal to Aug. 31.)

Cartoon by Joe Heller | For The Compass

The 20-year military operation in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history, came at a cost of more than 2,400 lost lives, 20,700 wounded and countless others traumatized.

While long overdue, the withdrawal quickly devolved into a humanitarian crisis after Afghan military forces collapsed in the face of Taliban advancement in late July and August.

Thousands of Afghans are now hoping to flee the country, creating a refugee crisis that requires our attention. U.S. Catholic bishops have joined the chorus of religious and political leaders calling on the United States to rescue and resettle Afghan refugees.

The U.S. military has already evacuated thousands of Afghan refugees with Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants to Fort Lee Army base in Virginia. Now, Wisconsin and Texas are welcoming refugees at Fort McCoy and Fort Bliss, respectively.

“The Fort McCoy community is proud to join U.S. Army North, U.S. Northern Command and the Department of Defense team in supporting the State Department with this mission,” Brig. Gen. Chris Norrie, the Task Force McCoy commander, said in a statement on Aug. 22. “We look forward to the opportunity to treat our temporary guests with the utmost respect and Wisconsin hospitality as they commence their Special Immigrant Visa process.”

Refugee resettlement agencies in Wisconsin will help place Afghans who arrive at Fort McCoy around the country. Most are not expected to resettle in Wisconsin, Mary Flynn, a program manager at Lutheran Social Services in Milwaukee, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

In addition to Lutheran Social Services, three other refugee resettlement programs in Wisconsin were approved by the State Department to assist the Afghan refugees. They include Jewish Social Services in Madison, the International Institute of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and World Relief in the Fox Valley.

The Diocese of Green Bay, through Catholic Charities, is seeking volunteers who can travel to Fort McCoy for a minimum of two weeks. Among the duties will be to welcome refugees as they arrive, participate in activities with them and assist in minor paperwork. Those interested must be fully vaccinated and at least 21 years old. 

Catholic Charities is also accepting donations to assist the refugees. To learn more about volunteering and donating, visit their website.

Welcoming Afghan refugees to Wisconsin is one way we can respond to Pope Francis’ call to “journey together towards an ever wider ‘we.’” The Afghan refugees arriving here have suffered and sacrificed a great deal. It is our obligation as Christians to do what we can to lift them up: through prayer and through moral and financial support.

In the words of Pope Francis, “Ours must be a personal and collective commitment that cares for all our brothers and sisters who continue to suffer,” he said. “A commitment that makes no distinction between natives and foreigners, between residents and guests, since it is a matter of a treasure we hold in common, from whose care and benefits no one should be excluded.”