Welcoming our new Afghan neighbors (guest point of view)

As Thanksgiving approaches, families across Massachusetts eagerly await the arrival of relatives and friends to share a meal, reconnect, and be grateful for each other. Traditions vary from home to home, with some being inherited through generations while others are re-created. For hundreds of Afghan refugees in the United States and Massachusetts, this Thanksgiving will be their first. It will be a time of great relief and, for many, great anxiety.

By bringing an end to America’s longest war, President Joe Biden fulfilled a central campaign promise and began the difficult task of rebuilding a smarter, diplomacy-based foreign policy for the 21st century. A fundamental aspect of his approach involves rightly keeping our word to those who stood shoulder to shoulder with our service members and humanitarian implementers for nearly two decades. Approximately 95,000 Afghans make the dire decision to leave their lives in Afghanistan, and often their family members, to begin a new life in the United States. The decision to come to America was not made easily; many who chose to leave faced persecution and death at the hands of the Taliban. The complex network of decisions to leave one’s homeland requires deep bravery. Bravery to risk everything in order to resume a life in an unknown culture, removed from known social support systems, in the face of a new language and a new lifestyle.

It is estimated that 1,000 Afghans will resettle in our Commonwealth in search of security, stability, opportunity and community. Let’s help them make this their new home.

The Commonwealth is no stranger to opening our hearts to those most in need. Throughout our long history, Massachusetts has gained strength largely due to a constant flow of new residents who enrich the structure of our cultural lives and bring the dynamism, drive and ideas to our shores to grow our economy, renew our institutions and drive us into the future. For generations, people have taken a leap of faith in coming to Massachusetts from all corners of the world – Ireland, Italy, Haiti, Honduras, Brazil, Ethiopia, Armenia and Cambodia to name a few. With reluctance, determination and hope, refugees in every generation have become neighbors, friends and colleagues.

Last September, we helped secure nearly $ 2 billion to fund Afghan resettlement efforts and immediate humanitarian activities to support the most vulnerable remaining in the country. And there are billions more to support unaccompanied children and other Afghans fleeing to safety. This funding should only be a starting point. In the coming months, Congress will work closely with resettlement agencies and humanitarian organizations to ensure that they have the means necessary to meet practical resettlement and assistance needs.

With the support of Congress and through their own efforts, our community leaders have already gotten started. In Worcester, officials, businesses, religious leaders and resettlement organizations formed a coalition to welcome Afghan families on their way from resettlement treatment centers to start their new lives. The city-wide partnership “Worcester Together” draws attention to collecting donations, uniting volunteers, seeking housing and employment opportunities and providing legal services to support resettlement efforts. Similar efforts to receive refugees are taking place in other communities across the Commonwealth, including in Springfield, Lowell and Boston.

This type of effort deserves our wholehearted support. How we treat and uplift our most vulnerable citizens is a measure of who we are as a society, and Massachusetts has always served as the conscience of our country and led the social and moral movements of our time.

This Thanksgiving, we thank all the Bay Staters who reach out their hand in friendship by welcoming our new Afghan neighbors. These actions have the ability to alleviate some of the anxiety and insecurity that weighs on our newest residents as they begin their lives here in the United States. There is strength in our unity. And with a little love and help from all of us, together we will not only make new friends and neighbors, but also a deeper understanding of our common humanity.

For more information on how to help, please visit Worcester Together.

Edward J. Markey is a junior senator from Massachusetts.

Jim McGovern represents the second congressional district in Massachusetts.

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