As I write this, news is coming in about two powerful explosions outside Kabul’s international airport which have claimed the lives of at least sixty Afghans and thirteen American troops. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one blast occurred near the airport at Abbey Gate and the other close to the nearby Bidon Hotel. In what is the worst day of his presidency Joe Biden has expressed his heartbreak and determination to hunt those responsible down.
This is the latest development in a chain of events which has been unfolding in Afghanistan before the eyes of the world since the Taliban seized power in that most unfortunate of countries. With sorrow and disbelief, we have seen the images of men, women, and children fleeing from the approaching Taliban played out like something from a horror film.
Particularly disturbing was the sight of people swarming onto the runway of Hamid Karzai International Airport, some attempting to climb onto a taxing 140-ton Air Force transport plane. One of these was a young teenager, Zaki Anwari, who feared the new rulers would forbid him to play for the national youth football team. Zaki didn’t make it. His remains were found in the wheel of the aircraft when it landed in Qatar.
The men responsible for the carnage near the airport are Isis-K who are a regional arm of Islamic State. This Islamic State of Khorasan is an affiliate of the group that overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in order to establish a so-called “caliphate” (a glorious and unified Islamic civilization).
Established in eastern Afghanistan in 2015, they are a sworn enemy of the Taliban. They consider them to be “apostates” because of their willingness to negotiate with the US, their apparent pragmatism, and their failure to apply Islamic law with sufficient rigour. They are both Sunni Islamic extremist groups seeking to form authoritarian states under strict Sharia law and prepared to use violence to achieve their aims.
It is little wonder that one hundred thousand people have fled the country via the American-led evacuation.
The ordinary people, as always pay the price for the diabolical acts carried out for the furtherance of these fundamental aims and objectives.
Afghanistan, notably, had the largest number of refugees of any country in the world for more than two decades between 1981 and 2013, before being overtaken by Syria that year.
The word refugee has its roots in the seventeenth-century France, when a huge influx of French migrants known as Huguenots left their country to escape religious persecution. The French refugie becomes the English refugee. The term comes from the Latin word refugium which means ‘the act of taking refugee’.
Refugee kept the sense of its Latin root intact and can mean both a literal ‘shelter’ and a figurative ‘sanctuary’. Refugium came from the verb refugee (to ‘run away’ or ‘to escape’), itself formed from fugere (“to flee” or “to avoid”).
The term ‘refugee’ was not officially defined in international law until the 1951 Refugee Convention. This came as a response to the first great refugee crisis of the twentieth century, the Second World War – which forcibly displaced around fifty million worldwide.
Afghans have suffered more than forty years of conflict, natural disasters, chronic poverty, food insecurity and prior to this current crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic. Violence in Afghanistan is worsening in intensity and spreading in reach-causing even more human suffering and displacement. Their resilience and the resilience of their host communities is being stretched to the absolute limit.
As in Europe, the public mood in Turkey has turned against immigrants and refugees, sometimes resulting in violence, such as knife attacks.
The US has a long history of welcoming refugees, including Afghans. Some of those who have been resettled are Afghan nationals who served as translators or interpreters during the US mission in Afghanistan. As a consequence of their employment by the Americans, many faced serious threats to their safety.
Irish people have not always been as welcoming to outsiders as we might like to think. We can be suspicious of refugees, of people of different culture, creed, sexuality, colour, people speaking different languages, honouring different traditions from our own.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney has said he would like to take more than the two hundred refuges the Government has pledged to accommodate but cautioned that any increase must be done in way that ensures they will be properly looked after.
The Catholic Church teaches that all people have the right to live a dignified life in their homeland. Tragically the fact that there are forty-five million displaced people in our world reveals the extent of the imbalance and conflict across the globe.
Our culture is fixated on material possessions, on objects, and is strongly individualistic. We need to find anew what it really means to love our neighbour and to put into practise the words of the Bible:
Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan