Thousands of Afghans who worked for and with the United States are trying to get out of the country and find a new home, hopefully in this country.
Why can’t West Virginia be one of the destinations?
Typically, West Virginia receives only a few refugees each year. According to Migration Information Source, their destination is based on “factors including their needs, family ties, and the receiving community’s language and health care services, housing availability, educational and job opportunities, and cost of living.”
As a result, most refugees settle in large states, such as Texas and California, and urban areas like Los Angeles and Houston.
The U.S. government has already brought about 2,000 interpreters and their families to this country under Operation Allies Refuge, but many more are coming. The New York Times reports, “At least 18,000 people have (special visa) applications pending, and the number is expected to increase considerably given the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.”
The Migration Information Source reports those seeking refuge have “provided interpretation, security, cultural advice, intelligence and other services to the U.S.-led military coalition and have faced reprisals from Taliban insurgents. More than 300 Afghan interpreters or relatives have been killed because of their U.S. ties.”
The Times reports the applicants “must show they have been employed for at least two years by the U.S. government or an associated entity. They must prove they performed a valuable service by providing a recommendation from an American supervisor.”
Their loyalty to the United States, especially in the face of grave danger to themselves and their families, as well as the endorsement by a U.S. sponsor, are significant assurances they will strengthen the increasingly diverse fabric of this country.
West Virginia could be a good home for some. We pride ourselves on being a welcoming place and our faith-based values of service and compassion inspire us to help others, regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
In addition, we could use the help from hard-working immigrants. Our population is declining and just over half of the state’s adults are in the workforce. Businesses across the state are desperate for employees. It is reasonable to expect that Afghans who can escape their war-torn country with their lives would be happy to settle in a secure and beautiful state where a full-time job is waiting.
The Gazette-Mail newspaper published a story last year about an Afghan refugee who resettled in Charleston. Najib Ahmad Bakhtari got a job at a restaurant and was studying English. He told reporter Amelia Ferrell Knisley that “he found friendly people, opportunity and peace of mind” here that he had not known in Afghanistan.
“The thing that got me about West Virginia was the beauty of the mountains and the peacefulness of the small town,” he told the paper through a translator.
Imagine that story repeated hundreds of times over as people from the other side of the world came here and discovered what we know and love about West Virginia.
I know none of this is as simple as I make it out to be. There are significant logistical challenges to refugee resettlement programs.
But maybe there is an opportunity here for West Virginia to demonstrate the compassion of our people, show our appreciation for those who have aided the U.S. during the war, while at the same time growing our population and workforce.