Duties and functions

Howard Manuel: Supporting Newly Settled Afghans

There’s no easy way to relive it; the American spirit has been tested throughout our time in Afghanistan. We can have long discussions about what and when, or our exit strategy in 2021. But in this new year, our efforts are best deployed by looking at the lingering issues at hand. The most pressing of these is the resettlement of Afghan refugees in the United States.

For the past two decades, Afghan nationals have served as a compass for US and allied forces and aid workers in the global fight against terrorism. These full members served as interpreters and linguists, and in various other support functions for U.S. troops, contractors, and diplomats, and later in support of the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

It was through these Afghans that we communicated our visions of democracy and human rights which became the catalyst for change in the nation. In translating this vision, the Afghan people have also taken great risks. By choosing a side, the American side, they risked their own lives and those of their loved ones.

While we are out of Afghanistan, we cannot relinquish our responsibility to these allies.

Our country did not have the chance to evacuate all the individuals who took this risk before the departure of the coalition forces last August. Those who have been evacuated look forward to a new life in the United States.

While we can agree that bringing Afghan refugees to our shores is a successful step, our commitment is far from over. Settlement and reintegration takes time, and it can take years before Afghans are properly integrated into our society and can exist independently here. Until then, we owe it to them to understand the obstacles so that we can help them overcome them.

When we picture Afghan evacuees in America, it’s easy to forget that they come from a war-torn region and are still fighting for a better life. We must ensure that Afghan refugees have access to emotional support and mental health care. Although physically safe now, many will experience distress and common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The World Health Organization recommends meeting the mental health needs of migrants and refugees by organizing inclusive and accessible promotion and prevention programmes; strengthen mental health as part of general health services; and ensuring timely diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. Afghan refugees deserve this attention from the American people.

Afghan refugees will also need help to understand the legal framework for their resettlement. Our country’s US immigration laws are confusing for anyone, let alone someone trying to build a new life in a new country. They will have to understand their rights and even their duties. There must be clear communication about resettlement policies and process.

Last but not least, we must work to help refugee children with health and access to education. Refugee parents and children experience considerable stress as they immigrate and adjust to a new country. Parents are often concerned about the safety and basic needs of their children such as pediatric care and nutrition. Children face the challenge of adapting to American standards inside and outside the classroom.

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees have been brought to the United States since last summer, delighted to make it their new home. As Americans, we must open our hearts and support our allies who have honored their allegiance to our nation.

As we begin 2022, consider supporting nonprofits like No One Left Behind, which helps resettle Afghan families, or watch the CBS sitcom “United States of Al,” which depicts the friendship of a Navy veteran and his Afghan interpreter.

We must support Afghan refugees as they adjust to American life and celebrate their resilience and growth in American society. Every American should pledge this year to participate in this mission.