Democratic leaders in Kentucky's state legislature will officially call on Gov. Andy Beshear and the state's Congressional delegation to open the commonwealth to Afghan refugees, they announced at a Sunday press conference.
Speaking outside the office of Kentucky Refugee Ministries in Louisville, state Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey and House Minority Leader Joni Jenkins shared the text of a letter that will be sent Monday to Beshear and the Congressional delegation asking them to "offer Kentucky as a permanent home for Afghan refugees."
"There becomes a time when thoughts and prayers are not enough," Jenkins said Sunday. "They're very, very helpful, but they're not enough. And now is the time for action."
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The U.S. continues to evacuate Americans and Afghan people just over a week after the county fell to Taliban rule upon the withdrawal of U.S. troops, with 17,000 people sent out of Afghanistan in the last week. The Defense Department on Sunday announced it was enlisting the help of commercial airlines to assist with evacuations.
But the efforts have been chaotic — with many in the Afghan capital of Kabul struggling to even get to the city's airport to try to escape the country — leading to widespread criticism of the U.S. government's handling of the final withdrawal of troops after more than 20 years.
State Rep. Pamela Stevenson, another Louisville Democrat and a colonel in the Air Force, said Sunday the U.S. needs to do more to honor its obligations to the Afghan people after decades of war, especially those who worked with American troops and now face grave threats.
"We couldn't do what we do without the people in those countries. The Afghan people who protected your sons and daughters, who provided us food, contractors, safe passage and information so we could stay safe, now require our support," she said. "There's no way that we can turn our back on a people that said for 20 years, 'I'll risk my life for the promise of America, and I'm not American.'"
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Sunday's event also featured representatives from local groups already preparing to help Afghan refugees that may arrive in Kentucky.
Semsudin Haseljic, a case manager with KRM who himself came to the U.S. as refugee from Bosnia, said Kentucky is well-suited to take in Afghan refugees because there's an existing infrastructure of support organizations already available in major cities including Louisville, Lexington and Bowling Green.
"As with past humanitarian crises — from Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Burma, Syria — citizens of Kentucky have shown exemplary compassion in welcoming refugees, and we should step up again and lead by example in helping out Afghan refugees," he said.
From 2015 to 2019, 216 Afghan people have arrived in Louisville, according to the Kentucky Office for Refugees, a department of Catholic Charities of Louisville that oversees refugee services in the commonwealth. That's the eighth most of any country, the agency said.
Statewide, more than 70 additional Afghan people have arrived in the same time period, according to the agency.
Colin Triplett, director of Catholic Charities Migration & Refugee Services, previously told The Courier Journal past resettlements in Kentucky have included former U.S. translators. The Biden administration in late July said up to 2,500 Afghans including military interpreters would be relocated amid the pullout.
Haseljic said KRM has already agreed to help resettle at least one Afghan family in the area, and Triplett said Catholic Charities is also at the ready to assist Afghan refugees settling in Louisville.
"it's a scary time when you fly to a new land, somewhere where you don't know anybody, and you don't know what's gonna happen to you," Haseljic said, noting he was flown to the same military base in Germany as many Afghan refugees are now when he left Bosnia. "So, my heart breaks seeing all the Afghan refugees arriving in Germany and at other military bases facing the unknown. ... We urge our government to expedite this process and to help us welcome refugees in our communities."
USA Today contributed to the reporting of this story.
Mary Ramsey is a breaking news reporter for The Courier Journal. Reach her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter @mcolleen1996. Support strong local journalism in our community by subscribing to The Courier Journal today.