How to help Afghanistan: Refugee organizations will play critical role, foreign policy experts say

Tuesday, August 17, 2021
How Chicagoans can help Afghan refugees
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Americans can help support refugee organizations that will be critical in getting Afghan allies out of the country, foreign policy experts say.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As the situation in Afghanistan unfolds, Refugee One on Chicago's Far North Side is standing by. The organization had already made plans to help until the sudden Taliban takeover left the country in chaos.

"Last week we were preparing to send about 10 of our staff to Ft. Lee where they anticipated having a large number of Afghan special immigrant visa holders arrive," said Jims Porter, a spokesperson for Refugee One.

SEE ALSO | 7 killed as Kabul airport plunges into chaos while Taliban patrols Afghan capital

The special immigrant visa holders include Afghan drivers, interpreters and anyone else who risked their lives to help the United States Government during the war that spanned two decades.

Elizabeth Shackelford, with Chicago Council on Global Affairs, calls it an intelligence failure not to expect the Taliban to move so fast.

"The biggest failure is we have not gotten all the allies out who have helped us through the war and we should be ashamed of it as this stage," Shackelford said.

Foreign policy experts say what Americans can do is help support refugee organizations who will be critical in getting Afghan allies out of the country and settled in the U.S.

SEE ALSO | Biden says he stands 'squarely behind' Afghanistan decision

"Their lives are at risk and also their families' lives are at risk because of the support they provided the United States," Porter said.

President Biden stands by his decision to withdraw troops, a decision Shackelford said is the right one and should have been made years ago after Osama Bin Laden was killed.

"Had we left Afghanistan a decade ago, how many of our troops wouldn't have passed away and how many of our Afghans would not have worked for us and are now in harm's way?" Shackelford said.

Shackelford said that, similar to the way Vietnam ended, a Taliban takeover with an ugly ending was inevitable no matter how long the U.S. stayed.

WATCH | Afghanistan crisis personal for military families

For so many military families, watching Afghanistan's quick collapse is personal.

Sharon, whom we are only identifying by her first name because her daughter works in the region as a military contractor, sent her daughter into combat in Afghanistan twice.

"This is very scary for the US population there, and also for the Afghans who support the US," Sharon said.

The US military lost more than 2,000 people during the war that spanned a generation.

"I think she keeps a lot of those wounds inside. I think a lot of those wounds are invisible wounds and it takes time to heal those wounds," Sharon said.

For so many military families, watching the country's quick collapse is personal. But some say it was time.

"I think after 20 years, the nationals, the nation should have learned something to become self-sufficient," Sharon said.

For those who do make it out, groups like Chicago's Refugee One will be waiting to create a safe haven.