LETTER – Refugees are people, just like us

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, September 21, 2021

To the Editor:

Was it really just a few weeks ago that the plight of our allies in Afghanistan moved people to compassion? Was it really just a few weeks ago that the Taliban’s heinous acts of retribution against Afghans who worked with the United States drove people to outrage? I hope we haven’t forgotten.

While I recognize the immense strain the sudden arrival of a large group of people will cause, and while I agree that communication about and assistance for this sudden arrival is paramount to our success in aiding and providing for the new Afghans in our area, it is our humanity that must win the day.

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Children’s book author and illustrator Kate Milner has won numerous awards. In 2018 she won the Klaus Flugge Prize for her picture book “My Name is Not Refugee,” a detailed and poignant story of a young boy and his mother as they flee their homeland.

“We have to leave this town, my mother told me, it’s not safe for us, she said.”

We see the boy and his mother carrying nothing but a plastic shopping bag of belongings. We see them behind a chain link fence with a crowd of other people. We see them sleeping sitting up and clinging to each other so they will not be separated. We see them herded like cattle and being yelled at in a language they do not understand. And we see the mother try to make it all OK for her little boy.

Blessedly, this is something most of us have never experienced and will never experience. And because that is our blessing, it can seem unreal to us, and make the people who do experience it unreal to us. But they are real. They are people, just like we are. They are not diseases, they are not crimes, no more than we are.

Yes, our area’s resources are limited, but our compassion and humanity are not. As our community seeks information and assistance to better help the Afghans who have come to us for safety, let us be touched by “the better angels of our nature,” as Abraham Lincoln called on us to do in his 1861 inaugural address.

And for our new Afghan friends, please remember the final words of Kate Milner’s book: “You’ll be called Refugee but remember Refugee is not your name.”

Juanita Giles