On August 25, 2021

Let’s lead on refugee resettlement, too

By Lewis Mudge

Vermonters should be proud that we continue to outpace the country in vaccines. I say we double down and once again show the rest of the country how we are a little state with big ideas.

I tip my hat to Gov. Scott’s recent request to the White House for more refugees from Afghanistan. (As for our Washington delegation — with 90 years of combined experience in the capital — I respond to their calls of intelligence failures with indifference. Gentlemen: You are the three Vermonters with power to actually shape events.)

After a disastrous close to this 20-year war, refuge should be made a priority to those most at risk from Taliban persecution. There are certain people at major risk of retaliation because of their work with the previous government or for prior work with human rights groups, aid agencies or schools. These individuals will bear the brunt of the fickleness and cruelty of the Taliban.

While most of these people, many of them women, are still in Afghanistan struggling to get out, others are in third countries waiting for resettlement. Gov. Scott’s call for more refugees helps Vermont. As a state that consistently ranks among the lowest in terms of diversity, an influx of refugees will assist in this regard. But — and perhaps more importantly — we continue to face a demographic crisis. Yes, we did see some growth, according to the latest census figures, but it was a modest 2.8% compared to the national average of 7.4%, and most of the real growth was centered around Chittenden County.

The U.S. has a moral obligation to resettle some of the (at least) tens of thousands of Afghans that have legitimate reasons to flee the Taliban, many of whom worked for projects and programs funded by our federal government.

Vermont needs people. Peanut butter, meet jelly.

Over the last 13 years, I’ve worked with refugees from some of Central Africa’s most war-torn zones. I’ve experienced firsthand the ingenuity, motivation and compassion from those who have had to uproot their lives to flee the persecution of armed groups. From Cameroon to Uganda to the Congo, there is nothing more sobering than to hear the accounts of those who have no other choice but to leave their homelands.

This sentiment was shared by many of us over the last few days as we watched the tragic and chaotic scenes unfolding at the Kabul airport. What better demonstration is there as to the power of our U.S. passports than what we have seen over the past week as Americans were prioritized over translators, human rights defenders and other Afghans who threw in their lot with us?

Vermont should lead the way to ensure that some of these Afghans can have a new start.

The drive of those who will move mountains to save their own lives and those of their families carries over to their new homes. New Americans in my own town have made it a better place to be and raise children. They work hard. They want our communities to thrive and prosper.

Refugee resettlement is also quintessentially American. Almost all of us are, in a fashion, either refugees or descendants of some type of refugee.

While Afghanistan seems far from Montpellier and bandwidth may soon be taken up with a surging Delta variant, I urge Gov. Scott and our congressional delegation to do what it takes to ensure that Vermont leads the way in resettlement. A few statements and letters from our leaders may not be enough, so I encourage Vermonters to push our state elected representatives to find ways to cut through the bureaucracy to ensure this happens.

Much of the country looks up to us for how we have embraced science and adhered to regulations amid the pandemic. Let’s show them how we can respond to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan by doing our part and then some. Let’s lead on refugee resettlement, too.

Lewis Mudge is a member of the Charlotte Select Board and the Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. This commentary was written in a private capacity.

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