o-lincolnrefugees

A little over a month before my fourth birthday, the United States of America invaded the landlocked and impoverished nation of Afghanistan. A few months shy of 20 years later we are only now just leaving. U.S. involvement in Afghanistan long predated the 2001 invasion.

After 20 years of occupation, this country and the people in it owe an incalculable debt to the people of Afghanistan— the least we can do is give them a new home in America.

Lincoln has a long history of being friendly to refugees, and as such we should welcome Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Not only do refugees add new life and flavor to a community, Lincoln’s refugee communities are part of what make Lincoln the place it is today.

Despite the fact that most student readers were born either after the invasion or were too young, such as myself, to have any clear memories of the outbreak of the war, we as Americans nonetheless have a moral responsibility to right the wrongs of our elders. Some may say that it is not our responsibility to help the Afghan people. Such an objection is, to my mind, either cruel or stupid. For practically our entire lives our military, along with our coalition allies, have occupied their country. 

Many of those fleeing the Taliban are fleeing precisely because they aided our forces and fear reprisals against any who aided and abetted the western occupiers. During the withdrawal of coalition forces, documents were left in the British embassy in Kabul containing the information of seven locals who had applied to work there.

The Taliban has already begun a series of killings across the country, including a massacre. Women in particular have a great deal to fear from a resurgent Taliban. While the previous Afghan government was by no means progressive by western standards, the Taliban is far worse. Under their rule, girls were forbidden from attending school in 1998. 

Since the 1990s, Lincoln has been designated by the U.S. State Department as “refugee friendly.” The city has long been a place for refugees to resettle, particularly those from the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Back in the 1970s and ‘80s Lincoln took in a number of Vietnamese refugees, which has led to a vibrant Vietnamese community in the city. 

The impact of refugees on Lincoln has been profound, with a wide variety of restaurants, shops and grocery stores all over the city. Lincoln’s refugee community represents some of the very best things about our country. Each group brings a new ingredient to the melting pot, and each group adds their own contribution to this project we call America. Each refugee has a story to tell, and it would behoove us to listen and learn from them.

While taking in refugees can be accompanied by stresses of its own, the cultural benefits to a community, in my opinion, outweigh any hypothetical negatives. The Lincoln Public School system is equipped to handle such stresses with its Bilingual Liaison Program, helping immigrant and refugee students learn English and integrate into the American education system as well as building connections between the schools, parents and the community.

We, as Americans, should all do our part to ensure that refugees are welcomed into this country and feel safe in their new homes. On an individual level, this could look like frequenting refugee owned businesses, and on a more systemic level, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln could even pitch in to Lincoln’s legacy of supporting refugees by creating a refugee outreach program. After all our military has done to their old home, I think we owe them a new one.

Nick Finan is a junior political science major. Reach him at nickfinan@dailynebraskan.com