WASHINGTON — The “human dignity” of Afghanistan’s people “must be respected” amid the chaos in the country, the head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services said Aug. 17.
“The fall of Afghanistan and the departure of its elected leaders are a cause for concern, because of the possible denial of human rights, particularly for women and girls,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio.
The Taliban, an extremist Islamic movement that ruled Afghanistan until ousted by a U.S.-led coalition nearly 20 years ago, swiftly took control of the capital city of Kabul Aug. 15 after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Several other major cities have fallen to the Taliban.
President Joe Biden announced in April that he would end U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and he gave the Pentagon until Aug. 31 to complete the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 to 3,000 troops in that country when he made his announcement. As of mid-August, the number of U.S. troops had dropped to about 650.
But since the Taliban began taking over large swaths of the country, Biden ordered the return of several thousand U.S. troops to secure the airport in Kabul and conduct security measures to help with the evacuation of thousands of people who want to leave the country.
“My two visits to the country confirmed my impression regarding the sacrifices, even including death, made by many members of the Armed Forces and civilians striving to bring stability and peace to the people there,” Archbishop Broglio said.
“At the moment, however, we can only pray for the Afghani people, support any humanitarian efforts that are in place there (especially through Catholic Relief Services), and give voice to local leadership on all sides,” he said.
“Naturally, I am particularly concerned about those in the U.S. Armed Forces who continue to defend refugees and assets in the country,” the archbishop added. “We pray that there will be no violence and a peaceful departure for all of those desiring to leave.”
On Aug. 16, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tweeted: “Let us continue to pray for all those in #Afghanistan and for peace amid conflict. #PrayTogether.”
Hours before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, Pope Francis expressed his hope for the peace and safety of the country’s citizens.
“I join in the unanimous concern for the situation in Afghanistan. I ask all of you to pray with me to the God of peace, so that the clamor of weapons might cease and solutions can be found at the table of dialogue,” the pope said Aug. 15 at his Angelus address.
Only through dialogue, he added, “can the battered population of that country — men, women, elderly and children — return to their own homes, and live in peace and security, in total mutual respect.”
Saying that a humanitarian crisis is developing in Afghanistan, the chairmen of two U.S. bishops’ committees called on the U.S. government to “act with utmost urgency” to resettle thousands of Afghan citizens entering the country under special immigrant visas.
The U.S. government has said it would resettle up to 30,000 people who have applied for Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs.
“The government’s goal to relocate as many as 30,000 SIV applicants to the United States remains a monumental task that hangs in the balance,” said Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace. “We know that time is of the essence to help our brothers and sisters in need, and we call on our government to act with the utmost urgency, considering all available avenues to preserve life,” the bishops said in a statement released late Aug. 17.
Afghan nationals who provided translation, interpretation, security, transportation and other vital services to the U.S. troops in the last two decades have feared reprisals from Afghanistan’s Taliban, even more so now as its fighters advance around the country in the absence of the U.S. military.
Citing data from the International Rescue Committee, a global nongovernmental humanitarian relief agency, the Times said over 300,000 Afghan civilians “have been affiliated with the American mission over its two-decade presence in the country … but a minority qualify for refugee protection in the United States.”
In 2006, the U.S. Congress first authorized a bipartisan humanitarian program to provide Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs, for nationals from Afghanistan and Iraq that include resettlement services and legal permanent residence for the approved principal applicants, their spouses and children.
Since the creation of the program, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services has worked with the U.S. Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and other nongovernmental organizations to provide resettlement services to some of the over 73,000 Afghan SIV holders and their families.
On July 14, the White House announced the emergency relocation of Afghan SIV applicants in their final stages of processing to the United States, with the first of that group arriving in the United States July 30.
Planeloads of Afghans arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virginia outside of Washington and they were then taken to Fort Lee, near Petersburg, Virginia. The families were pre-vetted and able to complete the immigration process safely stateside. Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, is helping resettle the newcomers.