Religion: RNS] — Former presidents and first ladies joined religious leaders, faith-based refugee agencies, and others to launch a national organization that aims to make it easier to help Afghan evacuees who have arrived in the United States.
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Welcome.US launched Tuesday (Sept. 14) to provide a single point of entry for Americans to donate to frontline organizations, host arriving families through Airbnb and find other ways to help Afghans as they rebuild their lives in the U.S. after fleeing the Taliban.
” “We know that doing work to make our new neighbors feel welcome is the beginning point for many ways in which they will enrich us all,” Cecilia Munoz (co-chair of Welcome.US) said Tuesday morning during a virtual press conference.
This is what we do when our best. We’re proud to develop an approach to helping Americans do this work together .”
Munoz, former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, is co-chairing the organization with John Bridgeland who supervised the council under President George W. Bush.
Obama and former President Bill Clinton, along with former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and former Secretary to State Hillary Clinton, are serving as honorary chairpersons. They “lift up all involved and remind us that we have an opportunity, in times of division, for common purpose,” according the Welcome.US website.
People evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, wait to board a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Virginia, on Aug. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
They are joined by leaders from several faith-based refugee resettlement groups, which form the backbone of the U.S. refugee resettlement program. Since the U.S. pulled troops out of Afghanistan last month, these groups have worked independently to help Afghans who arrived with Special Immigrant Visas (or humanitarian parole).
These leaders include Bill Canny, the head of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services, Erol Kekic at Church World Service, and Chris Palusky, CEO of Bethany Christian Services. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah is president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. Jenny Yang is senior vice president of advocacy and strategy at World Relief.
Since 2009, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has supported about 10,000 Afghans through the SIV program with housing, employment assistance, medical support, cultural orientation and other resettlement services, Vignarajah said during the virtual news conference. The group has seen a “tremendous outpouring of support” in recent weeks, she said, with more than 45,000 people signing up to volunteer. She said
Americans are open to helping in any way they can.
“Americans from all walks of the political spectrum are eager to receive Afghan allies and refugees. Vignarajah stated that many people, churches, and communities have a deep personal connection to this historic effort and are now opening their homes, literally as well as figuratively, for Afghans in crisis.
Bilal Askaryar. Photo via Welcome.US
Bilal Askaryar, an Afghan American activist who previously worked for Church World Service, shared his family’s story of coming to the U.S. as asylum-seekers in the 1990s after Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan. He still remembers his first-grade teacher, who made him feel at home and taught him English. He said
Askaryar sees many parallels between his experience and stories about Afghans coming to the U.S.
But there is one important difference between my childhood and the present: “I’m encouraged to see the Welcome.US campaign… bring together… all government agencies, volunteers agencies, businesses, refugee agencies — so many intelligent people who have come together with the common goal of welcoming our new Afghan neighbours with dignity and compassion,” said he.
Welcome.US also includes a variety of religious leaders in its Welcome Council.
Among them is Bishop Michael Curry, head Episcopal Church; Deepak Chopra, a prominent New Age author; and the Rev. Cynthia Hale of Ray of Hope Christian Church, Georgia; Walter Kim of the National Association of Evangelicals, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, New York City; Imam Mohamed Magid of Virginia’s All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center (ADAMS), former head of Islamic Society of North America; Rabbi Jack Moline of Interfaith Alliance; and the Rev. Gabe Salguero is the head of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. Rabbi David Saperstein was a former U.S. ambassador at-large for international religious liberty. Cardinal Joseph Tobin is the archbishop of Newark’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese.
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