By: Liza Inbody
Cover Photo Credit: The Black Wall Street Times
For the young Afghanistan people, war has been apparent their entire life, tainted by dispute, violence, and betrayal. And now, they are leaving behind all that is familiar, into a foreign country with a different language, culture, people, and nowhere to start. Many of them are leaving behind their friends and family, as they embark on a journey to a seemingly different world. This all sounds like a scene from a movie, however, it is the reality for many.
The dominating aspect of Tulsa is the sense of community ingrained in our foundation. This is especially evident, as Afghan refugees have found shelter in Tulsa. Churches and organizations, including Catholic Charities, have worked together in order to make the transition into American society as smooth as possible.
What’s Happening in Afghanistan?
I interviewed Jenks History teacher Corey Hubble regarding the events that have occurred between Afghanistan and the United States that have led up to this influx of Afghanistan refugees in Tulsa and other places in the United States.
Afghanistan is a country torn by war and seemingly constant political disputes, causing dire effects on the Afghan people. Afghanistan’s struggles escalated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in which The United States planned to hunt down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, head of the extremist terrorist group that caused the 9/11 attacks. When the Taliban, another terrorist group located solely in Afghanistan and Pakistan, refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the U.S. overthrew the Taliban government and unintentionally started building a new Afghan government with progressive ideas. Furthermore, this caused widespread employment, as many people began to work with the government. For example, with the massive influx of soldiers and the variety of languages and dialects spoken in Afghanistan, there was a high demand for translators. However, in February of 2020, the United States signed a peace treaty with the Taliban that gradually withdrew the U.S. from Afghanistan. With this, extreme conservative Islamic laws were put into place, stripping away the only way of life that some had known.
“Twenty years is a long time,” said Hubble. “Let’s say you were five years old when the United States came in. That means you have lived your entire adult life in an environment where you can go to school as a girl, where you can play soccer, and all of a sudden it’s gone. So, it’s the young people in Afghanistan who have been impacted the worst by this.”
Another major concern arose, as many Afghan people worked with the American government for the past twenty years. The Taliban has also denied employment and education to those who have created ties to the U.S. government while the troops were located in Afghanistan.
“You have people there that fear for their lives,” said Hubble. “And if it’s not their life- they’re not going to be able to have a job or any kind of education because the Taliban is going to have some kind of list stating who worked for the U.S government and at the very least they will be denied a job. The ethical reason that the United States has an obligation to let these refugees in is that we told them that we were going to be there. We gave them promise after promise that we were going to support them and then just like that the Taliban took over Afghanistan in a matter of months and we didn’t uphold our promise. We left thousands of people behind that worked for the U.S government.”
What is this like for the incoming Afghan refugees?
Lauri Gero, the Chief Development Officer for Catholic Charities, has first-hand experience with the incoming Afghan refugees coming into Tulsa. She describes the fear and confusion that many felt, as they arrived in America.
“There were 75,000 that are able to come to the United States, but a lot of those people left their families there because they couldn’t get out,” said Gero. “They were just trying to get on flights and some people couldn’t leave. So, a lot of people we’re seeing in Tulsa still have family behind and they don’t know if they are okay.”
In fact, these emotions were abundant to the passengers on the plane.
“One time, this lady was on the plane with the refugees, she knew they were Afghan refugees because she had been following the news,” said Gero. “She got off the plane and she saw us welcoming them. She saw them and felt so bad for them because she could tell how scared they were on the plane. When she got off and saw all that we were doing and got out her checkbook and wrote a check for $1,000 to Catholic Charities.”
How is Tulsa accommodating the Refugees?
Catholic Charities has also been working to accommodate the incoming refugees through cooperation with other organizations, including Food on the Move, which is providing the food to the hotels, as most refugees are living in hotels for a few weeks before they move into apartments. Furthermore, The Eastern Oklahoma Food Bank is cooking the food that will be distributed to the refugees. Congregation B’nai Emunah, a Jewish congregation, is also helping supply essential resources and employment. The Islamic Society is helping find translators for Dari and Pashto, Afghan’s official language.
“All the collaboration is an opportunity to shine a really good light on Tulsa,” said Gero.
“Tulsa is a community that comes together when things get hard and get stuff done,”
Catholic Charities, along with the numerous other organizations’ purpose is to integrate the refugees into American society. Through career opportunities and basic living necessities.
“The hope is that when they move in, their apartment will be ready for them. And they can open the drawer and there will be some forks in there, some plates, some glasses. In their bathroom, there is a shower curtain and towels.”
What are the issues that Catholic Charities faced?
However, as the project has progressed, some roadblocks have come up, including the lack of information. Nonetheless, Catholic Charities have remained persistent in their efforts to provide a better life for the Afghan people.
“The hardest thing is not having a lot of information, meaning we always know when they’re coming so we can prepare better,” said Gero. “But we just keep on moving forward as much as we can every day. One of the things I love about Catholic Charities is we just figure out how to get things done. We really just have such a positive “can do” mindset and it’s just a great place to be.”
As Afghan refugees become integrated into the Tulsa community, we can show support by being educated about their difficult situation and welcoming them as new citizens. “These are real people that have hopes for themselves and in general they all want to work and they’re all excited about being here,” said Gero. “They definitely have a different culture so trying to understand that is going to take some work on our part. But they are going to be great citizens and I think they really are excited to get a job. However, sometimes people don’t have the best image of Tulsa, they think that people here are narrow-minded and prejudiced. There are some people who don’t feel like we should be letting the refugees in but their voice is drowned out; most of the people really believe in helping these people.” Furthermore, the kindness that we display can help eradicate the negative narrative that some have created revolving around Tulsa and our beliefs.
How You Can Help
Check out the Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma website to find out more information about donations and volunteering opportunities. You can also volunteer with the other collaborative organizations including Food On The Move and The Community Foodbank of Eastern Oklahoma.