NEW YORK — The U.S. bishops’ conference emphasized the need for the U.S. government to work quickly to achieve its goal of relocating 30,000 special immigrant visa applicants from Afghanistan because it’s a “monumental task that hangs in the balance.”
“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,” said Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, and Bishop David Malloy, chair of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace in a joint statement on Aug. 17.
Afghanistan has been in a state of turmoil after the Taliban, an extremist Islamic movement, overtook the capital city of Kabul on Aug. 15.
The takeover happened two weeks before the U.S. was set to complete its troop withdrawal after two decades in the country. In the days since the takeover, the country has descended into a state of chaos as many try to flee.
Videos taken at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16 showed Afghans trying to get running in front of and alongside U.S. military planes trying to get aboard as they drove down the runway. Some grabbed hold of landing gear and eventually fell off in the air.
Reports indicate that women are largely staying inside as the Taliban roam the streets. Most of the women that are out were wearing burqas, as the Islamist restrictions were re-imposed.
The USCCB chairmen said they’re particularly concerned for “Afghan women and girls who risk losing opportunities gained over the last two decades and now face potential mistreatment.”
Nadine Maenza, the commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom told The Tablet that she is also “gravely concerned” for the religious minorities — including Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, Ahmadi Muslims, Bahai, and one Jew — in Afghanistan.
Maenza explained that even though the vast majority of non-Muslims fled Afghanistan after the Taliban consolidated control of the government in 1996, small populations of religious minorities remained, and until it was overthrown by the U.S. government in 200 many religious minorities practiced their faith in hiding out of fear of punishment.
“The imposition of the Taliban’s harsh and strict interpretation of Islam in the areas that they have taken over violates the freedom of religion or belief of Afghans who do not share these beliefs,” Maenza said in a statement.
In the Taliban’s first news conference since the takeover on Aug. 17, however, the group declared that there would not be any discrimination against women, and leaders said they wish to have an inclusive government and a desire to live peacefully with other nations.
As the chaos unfolded, President Joe Biden addressed the nation after a wave of criticism for the way the U.S. went about leaving the country. In his remarks, Biden acknowledged that things unfolded “more quickly than anticipated,” but stood behind his decision to withdraw the troops. He put the onus on Afghan leaders, saying they “gave up.”
“How many more lives, American lives, is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones in Arlington National Cemetery. I’m clear on my answer,” Biden said.
There have been no American combat deaths in Afghanistan since Feb. 8, 2020.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Services said on Aug. 17 that as the situation in Afghanistan continues to unfold “the human dignity of people must be respected.”
“At the moment, we can only pray for the Afghani people, support any humanitarian efforts that are in place there, and give voice to local leadership on all sides,” Archbishop Broglio said in a statement.
“Naturally, I am particularly concerned about those in the U.S. Armed Forces who continue to defend refugees and assets in the country,” he continued. “We pray that there will be no violence and a peaceful departure for all those desiring to leave.”
Auxiliary Bishop Dorsonville and Bishop Malloy noted that staff from the USCCB, Catholic Charities, and other partners have been at Fort Lee assisting the government in welcoming and resettling special immigration visa applicants and their families.
“We will continue that work as long as necessary until those who are in harm’s way are brought to safety,” the USCCB chairmen said in the statement.