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When a spotlight is shone on a tragedy, it's natural for people of goodwill to respond. Images and individual stories in the media are powerful reminders that our humanity connects us all, prompting our desire to save our fellow human beings from suffering to well up within us.

That impulse has led to a widespread outcry to help Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban after U.S. forces started pulling out of the country. The sudden wave of proactive compassion is heartening. The calls to raise the refugee ceiling, the people offering to open their homes, the donations to support evacuation and resettlement efforts—all of it is great, truly.

It's also what we should have been doing for the millions of refugees already awaiting resettlement before two weeks ago.


Refugees needing a safe haven isn't new. It's not even new for Afghanistan. As Chiara Trincia, Associate Director of Public Affairs at the International Rescue Mission says, "The scenes from Kabul in recent days have shocked the world, and rightly so. But even before the latest dramatic developments in Afghanistan, Afghan refugees constitute the second-largest and one of the most protracted refugee populations in the world, with millions more internally-displaced."

Trincia says that half the population of Afghanistan is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance due to forty years of conflict, natural disasters, poverty, and now COVID-19. However, she adds, "While recent efforts to evacuate Afghans affiliated with the US mission are both laudable and necessary, these will benefit less than 1% of Afghans."

Afghan refugees need help. So do millions of other refugees. And if you think the U.S. is already doing a lot, we're not. At least, not compared to what we can and should be doing. If Turkey—a country with 1/27th of our GDP—can host 4 million refugees in the past 10 years (by far the most of any country) we can definitely offer more here.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently more than 20 million refugees in the world. Some are languishing in refugee camps. Some are stuck in limbo in stopover countries, waiting for the opportunity to be resettled. Nearly 90 percent are being hosted in developing nations that were already overstretched before their arrival. More than half of them are younger than 18.

The pandemic, of course, has made resettlement more complicated. Last year, fewer than 35,000 refugees out of 20.7 million were resettled as countries shut down.

But even prior to the pandemic, the U.S. was sadly failing on this front, as our refugee resettlement numbers were drastically slashed to historic lows during the Trump administration and our resettlement infrastructure was nearly demolished.

Obviously, we can't resettle all 20 million of the world's refugees. But we can certainly do a lot more than we have been doing, and we should—not just because it's the right thing to do from a humanitarian standpoint, but because welcoming refugees is good for our country.

Let me say that again, loud and clear. Refugees are good for our country. That's not an opinion, but a fact based on the evidence.

"When given the rare opportunity to resettle somewhere like the United States, refugees thrive and contribute to the fabric of our communities—as they have for decades," says Trincia. Study after study has shown this. Those of us who know refugees firsthand know this. And it's simply common sense when you stop to think about it for five seconds.

Imagine you're someone fleeing oppression in a war-torn country and a nation opens its doors to you. How are you going to feel? Grateful, of course—but also loyal to the country that offered you safety and opportunity.

In a letter to top U.S. officials and the United Nations, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster expressed concern that orphans left in Afghanistan are vulnerable to radicalization by the Taliban, posing a potential national security threat.

"We are extremely concerned that a lack of action on this matter could result in a new generation of individuals committed to waging war against the United States," they wrote, pointing out that there are families in the U.S., Canada, and Europe who are eager to adopt these kids, potentially saving both them and the U.S. from extremist conflict.

Do we bring them here, or leave them in the hands of extremists, either to be targets of violence or radicalized themselves? It's not a hard choice.

What about the cost, though? Not an issue in the long term, as analysts have found that refugees actually have a net positive impact on the economy. Refugees are more likely to start businesses than native-born citizens or even other immigrants, so even though there's an initial upfront cost to resettle them, it's an investment that gets repaid and then some.

What about safety? Also not an issue. The vetting process for refugees (which you can see here) is the most stringent of any category of people to enter the United States. Tourists pose a greater threat than refugees. Refugees are the people fleeing terrorism and violence, not bringing it.

And again, by not resettling as many people as we can, we leave many suffering people vulnerable to extremists who would use our stinginess as a tool for anti-American radicalization. That's especially true in nations where we have inserted ourselves into conflict, helping to create some of the mess people are running from.

As far as I can see, there's no measurable downside to resettling as many refugees as we can get through the system. It's both the humanitarian and American thing to do. As a nation of immigrants founded by people fleeing persecution, it's in our DNA to open our doors to those needing refuge.

"Resettlement is both life-saving and life-changing," says Trincia. "Now more than ever, countries like the United States and its allies must up their resettlement commitments—to provide safe haven not just to Afghan refugees in urgent need, but also to the millions displaced around the world."

Click here to sign the IRC petition imploring the Biden administration to increase refugee admissions into the U.S. To learn more about the refugee situation around the world and see how else you can help, visit the IRC at rescue.org or the UN Refugee Agency at unhcr.org.

In October 2019, I sat at a table in Jakarta interviewing a young Afghan woman about the plight of refugee women in Indonesia. Her family had fled the Taliban when she was a child, and now she's stuck in a life of limbo in Jakarta with little hope of change.

By practically every measure our lives are nothing alike, yet I felt connected to her immediately. She was brilliant and eloquent (in English, no less), with a keen passion for justice and equality.

But mostly she was just so fully and beautifully human. The only real difference between us was that I was born inside certain man-made borders and she inside different ones. Neither of us chose our life circumstances. The happenstance of my birth did not make me more deserving of the freedom and privileges that lay unjustly out of her reach.


When we hugged goodbye, I wished I could take her back to the U.S. with me. I lamented that the Trump administration had slashed our refugee admissions ceiling to historic lows and thought of the countless women like her, overflowing with potential that might never be realized because of where they were born and the rules out of their control.

Her face flashed before my eyes as the news of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan after U.S. military withdrawal broke. Women and girls like her will surely bear the brunt of the fallout. We're already seeing heartbreaking stories of women burning the diplomas and degrees they have earned, fearing a life of extremist oppression, watching their hopes and dreams destroyed overnight. There were already Afghan refugees scattered in camps and stopover countries throughout the world, waiting for a chance to build a life for themselves—and now there will be thousands more.

Women and girls have always paid a high price in men's wars, but rarely is the price as visible as it is in Afghanistan. We know what Taliban rule means for women and girls there and we can't in good conscience just walk away and do nothing to help them.

If you feel compelled to do something, here are a few options:

1) For help on the ground right now, consider donating to organizations that have a strong track record of helping Afghan women and girls.

- Women for Women International is a non-profit organization that provides aid and support to women in war-torn countries. Women for Women has long had a presence in Afghanistan and their Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program has proven to have a significant impact in the country. A donor has promised to match up to $500,000 for the emergency aid fund in response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding there. Learn more and donate here.

- Women for Afghan Women is a grassroots civil society organization that "works to help Afghan women and girls exercise their rights to pursue their individual potential to self-determination, and to representation in all areas of life—political, social, cultural, and economic." With offices in Afghanistan and New York, they assist disenfranchised Afghan women both in Afghanistan and the U.S. Learn more and donate here.

2) For help in the long run, ask the U.S. government to increase the refugee ceiling back to historic norms at minimum.

While the Biden administration increased the number of refugees the U.S. would accept this year from 15,000 to 65,000, that's still far lower than the numbers the U.S. has historically welcomed. (To be clear, the refugee resettlement program is separate from the asylum-seeking we see at the southern border.) Refugees are the most vetted group of people to enter the U.S., they are statistically more likely to start businesses than native-born residents and other immigrants, they overall have a positive impact on the economy, and logic would tell us that displaced people are likely to be grateful and loyal to a country that offers them safe haven and opportunity. Refugee resettlement is good for the U.S. in addition to being the right thing to do.

Sign the International Rescue Committee petition to raise the refugee ceiling here.

Let's add our financial resources and civic voices to our thoughts and prayers for the women and girls of Afghanistan, as well as all of those facing oppression under the Taliban regime. While pundits play political football over who is to blame for the mess, let's put our focus on helping those who are most impacted by it.

Forced to leave their homelands due to war, persecution, or other danger outside of their control, refugees face a double challenge. Not only do they have to deal with the trauma of whatever they've seen or experienced that forces them to flee, but they also have to figure out how to make a new home in an unfamiliar land.

So when a country opens its arms and welcomes refugees with kindness and enthusiasm, it can mean the world. And for at least one refugee family, the Canadian province of Newfoundland has exemplified what that looks like.

Canadian journalist Muhammad Lila shared a story on Twitter that has thousands of people cheering for our neighbors to the north.


"Something amazing just happened, and it didn't make a single headline," Lila wrote. "It happened in a place you've probably never been, to a family you've never met. And it's the best story you'll read."

Lila then introduced Yaman, a third grader whose family are Syrian refugees. "No biggie, after all Canada admits a lot of refugees, right?" Lila added.

(As a matter of fact, Canada admitted more refugees than any other country in 2018, the last year for which official figures are available. The U.S. had held that title for nearly 40 years, but the Trump administration has drastically slashed the refugee resettlement ceiling each of the past three years to now historic lows.)

"When a refugee comes to Canada," Lila pointed out, "it's usually a happy time. Your plane touches down to a new life and new beginnings. When Yaman's family arrived, it was bittersweet. Why? Because their father never made it out of Syria. Think about what that does to a family."

"Imagine Yaman's mother, Fatima," Lila continued. "You survive a war, then move halfway around the world to raise your four kids in a foreign land—all on your own—without even knowing the language or if your husband is even still alive. Talk about strength."

Lila explained how the family of five settled in Newfoundland, which is "filled with cold winters but warm hearts."

"Neighbors welcomed the family with open arms, helping them with furniture, school, and a place to live."

RELATED: The refugee crisis is daunting, but Canada offers an inspiring example of how to help.

Now, that kind of hospitality toward refugees is not unusual, especially for refugees who come through Canada's refugee sponsorship program. But Lila explained how Newfoundlanders took their welcome to a whole other level.

Being Canada and all, many of the kids in Yaman's class play hockey. He wanted to play, but he didn't know how. He'd only been skating once, back home in Syria.

"Remember how it felt to be left out when you were a kid?" asked Lila. "That was Yaman."

BUT.

"One of the kids went home and told his dad," wrote Lila, "and before long, word started to spread in the community about the Syrian boy who'd never played hockey.

And this, right here, is where things get Canadian.

Really Canadian."

Lila then describes how a hockey dad found some kids' skates and took Yaman to the local rink. Then the dad asked Twitter if anyone had any equipment, and that same day, gear started showing up on his doorstep.

The next day, more equipment arrived, and then more.

A local hockey store then got in on the giving and offered him all brand new equipment at cost. "Within hours," wrote Lila, "people were asking if they could pay."

The next day, hockey dad takes Yaman to the hockey store for a surprise shopping spree.

"By the time Yaman walks in, he's smiling ear to ear," Lila wrote. "They tell him he's getting brand new hockey gear. He's so happy that he literally goes around shaking every single person's hand, one by one." Awww.

But it gets even better.

"In hockey, you put tape on your stick for better grip," explained Lila. "When they tell Yaman to choose his tape, he goes straight for the one with a Maple Leaf on it. He wanted to keep the flag with him, so that whenever he plays, he's carrying it."

Let's pause for just a moment to acknowledge how this works. When you offer a person fleeing danger a safe place to live and welcome them with open arms, there's a very good chance they are going to be grateful. In refugee resettlement terms, that translates to love for a persona's adopted nation and a true sense of patriotism. Welcoming refugees is a smart social and economic investment, in addition to simply being the right thing to do.

RELATED: Trump's unprecedented refugee policy is a huge economic mistake. Here's why.

Yaman got to pay for the hockey gear himself, and as Lila says, he felt "like the luckiest kid in the world."

"And here's why it matters more than you think," added Lila.

"In Canada, hockey can be more than a sport. At its best, it can unite us. You'll see Canadians, from all backgrounds, playing it everywhere: Streets, hallways, frozen ponds, you name it. Hell, as kids, we played until it got so dark ouside we couldn't see the puck anymore," Lila explained.

"When you're an immigrant, the easiest thing in the world is to feel left out," Lila wrote. "Your food is different. Your accent is different. Maybe your clothes too. And when your parents are struggling to pay the rent, hockey is laughably impossible luxury. But here's the thing..."

"When you're a kid, you don't care about any of that. All you want is to want to fit in. And it hurts like hell when you don't. It can be the worst feeling in the world. And that's exactly why this was so awesome."

"Canada isn't perfect," Lila admitted, "but it can still be a place where ordinary people come together to tell a refugee family that we care. That his mom doesn't have to go it alone. That they belong. It was a gigantic, Canadian 'we got you' - all done without having to say a single word."

Beautiful. Well done, Newfoundlanders. Thanks for setting an example to the rest of the world—not only for how to welcome a stranger into your home, but how to make them feel like they belong there.