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Afghanistan Withdrawal Reveals a Deeper Problem
Afghanistan. The land that has mystified and defeated would-be colonizers and conquerors for centuries, now on every social media account known to our current world. Suddenly, everyone has a friend in Afghanistan. It’s uncanny and a bit unnerving. They join others who have a friend of a friend of a friend in Afghanistan, creating an outraged public calling for compassion, open borders, and funding. Memes slap us in the face with their “Let all who want to leave, leave!” “Make room for all!” One does not need to ponder long the impossibility of that idea, yet I’ve not seen many publicly challenge the impossibility of it.
I’d like to spend a bit of time getting a perspective on all of this. Please hear at the outset that I am deeply sad and angry about the current situation in Afghanistan. From friendships with Afghans and those who have spent years living and working with Afghans (yes- I too am guilty of mentioning this…) to memories of vacations and school trips, Afghanistan has long been on my heart. After 20 years, one could argue that we should have known it was always going to be a messy leaving. The question then becomes: “Did it have to be this messy?” But discussing our complicated foreign policy in Afghanistan is not my area of expertise. In addition, writing about the messiness feels singularly disrespectful to those remarkable people who have risked and lost their lives, and the many who have worked tirelessly to bring people to safety. For them alone I daren’t comment publicly. They are true heroes and know a courage of which I have little understanding. What I want to do is to give some perspective, something I work toward every day, so that is my desire here.
There has been an Afghan refugee crisis for many years with little attention paid to the problem, and even less accomplished in finding sustainable solutions. There is also a Venezuelan refugee crisis, a Syrian refugee crisis, and a Myanmar Crisis. Before the crisis, there was a crisis, and before that crisis, there was a crisis. It brings to mind the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains, there are mountains.” This applies to Haiti and Afghanistan equally well, both nations crippled in crisis after crisis, both desperately needing stability and peace. This does not mean we should not pay attention – we should. And we should also recognize that this makes an already difficult crisis even worse.
As of June of this year, over 82.4 million people in the world had to flee their homes because of conflict and violence. Of those 82.4 million, 26.4 are refugees. Half of them are under 18 years old. In addition, there are millions of stateless people with no nationality, no border security, and no rights. When I say no rights, I mean no freedom to move, no access to healthcare or education, and no legal employment.
68% of refugees originate from five countries: Syria – 6.7 million; Venezuela – 4 million; Afghanistan – 2.6 million; South Sudan – 2.2 million; Myanmar – 1.1 million. There are five countries that have been the major hosts of refugees: Turkey, Colombia, Pakistan, Uganda, and Germany. Geographically this makes sense – these are bordering countries and borders become more porous during major conflicts and disruptions. The majority of the world’s refugees (86%) are hosted in developing countries. Only 14% are hosted in developed countries. It really makes one question the words developing and developed, doesn’t it? If developed means decreased hospitality, an inflated sense of self, and living out of scarcity instead of abundance, no wonder so many of us find the developing world so attractive. For a visual of these statistics, you can visit UNHCR Figures at a Glance.
So what of all this? Prior to all of this, those who work with refugees and displaced people were already working hard to serve and care for people. Resources have been limited for a long time and sustainable solutions were already difficult to come by. This current crisis will soon die down for most of us and a new season of outrage will be upon us, begging us to do our part in performing for the crowd. But there are many who do this work year in and out, with limited funds and a lot of heart.
thoughts on what we can do:
- We can give. Many of us have the ability to give if even a small amount. I will list some organizations at the end of this post for you to check out. Remember to weigh all of them through Charity Navigator to ensure accountability. As wonderful as your friend’s GoFundMe may seem – it is likely not a sustainable solution. So give to the GoFundMe, but also find a place where you can give regularly to a program that is ongoing.
- We can write our elected officials. America is quite simply not doing enough to help in the current crisis. Both the last administration and the current administration err on the side of doing too little, too late. Those of us who are laypeople can make noise through an email or a letter. The time is perfect as every September the President sets the number of refugees that are allowed entrance for the next fiscal year. Click here to send an email or call your representative.
- We can pray. This high form of empathy helps us to recognize that we are small, and God is big. Through prayer, we can discern our part in an ongoing crisis.
- We can volunteer. This is tricky during a pandemic that continues to stretch on. But check out the organizations I have listed as most of them can use volunteers.
- We can educate ourselves. It is not helpful to pass on incorrect information. It is not helpful to make situations worse than they are for the sake of sensation. What is helpful is to find good sources and recognize that even good sources have their limits. What is helpful is to remain humble as we learn. The refugee crisis is ever-changing and what is true today may have changed by tomorrow. There is no quick answer and there is no simple answer. Refugee and immigration issues are complicated. But there are sources and places where you can find out more. I’ve linked some at the end.
- We can remove ourselves from outrage and ground ourselves in facts and truth. Outrage limits our ability to function. Outrage creates massive inner conflict. Outrage does not and cannot last. Grounding ourselves in facts and truth helps us discern the voices that reflect the same.
- We can be part of the chain of goodness that makes a difference for all those around us.
As I have thought about all of this in the last few weeks, the words of the prophet Micah have often come to mind. Micah was one of the original and true social justice champions, a prophet who cared about oppression, who cared about injustice to the poor, who cared about women and children cast out of homes. His was not activism on social media, but a true heart for those who were hurt by false righteousness. He had harsh words of judgment, but those harsh words were always followed by faith that was practical and down to earth, by faith that invoked the beauty of a God of mercy. The people and the world Micah wrote to and about are not so different from the one we face every day. It is Micah that writes words that are heard through the centuries: “He has shown you, O Man, what is good, but what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
And that, my friends, is perspective. May we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God – only then will we have the wisdom to respond to any crisis, be it a refugee crisis or another that comes our way. Amen and Amen.
Here are some recommended resources:
- Women of Welcome– I really appreciate this group. From practical tips to compelling challenges, they give a realistic but encouraging picture of what it looks like to get involved.
- We Welcome Refugees– Take a look at their guide “How to Engage Afghanistan.”
- Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services – This group knows what they are doing and they have been doing it for 80 years. They are an excellent resource to understanding more about both the current and ongoing crisis.
- World Relief – An excellent source of news, giving, and understanding more about the crisis. Be sure to follow @jennyyang318 on Instagram.
- Follow @Lynzybilling on Instagram. She is an amazing photojournalist who has been on the ground in Afghanistan. Here is a link to one of her pieces: Afghanistan’s female journalists face the future under Taliban Rule.
- Read Jonathan Addleton’s account of his time in Afghanistan – a poignant account by my favorite diplomat: The Dust of Kandahar: A Diplomat among Warriors in Afghanistan. From Amazon “Addleton’s writing is at its most vivid in his firsthand account of the April 2013 suicide bombing outside a Zabul school that killed his translator, a fellow Foreign Service officer, and three American soldiers. The memory of this tragedy lingers over Addleton’s journal entries, his prose offering poignant glimpses into the interior life of a U.S. diplomat stationed in harm’s way.”
- Read The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives– accounts from 17 refugees around the world.
- Read The New Odyssey: The Story of the 21st Century Refugee Crisis– A compassionate portrait of mass migration.
This article was originally posted on Marilyn R. Gardner’s blog Communicating Across the Boundaries of Faith & Culture. You can also find her book “Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging” on Amazon.