Zakat Foundation executive director Halil Demir [left] and Chicago Ald. Matt Martin (47).
As a result of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, more than 100,000 brave Afghans who put their lives at risk to work with American military and civilian personnel need urgent resettlement. Expectations are that a minimum of 500 Afghan refugees will settle in our state, many of them in Chicagoland. We believe that the City of Chicago — its government, its people and its institutions — should embrace these refugees and take steps to ensure they receive the care, services and support they need.
Chicago is a city of immigrants. Over 500,000 Chicago residents are foreign born. We have successfully welcomed thousands of refugees and we are home to extraordinary emergency refugee resettlement agencies.
Many of the Afghans who will be coming to our area will be members of communities who were most at risk in their home country; those who worked directly with American service members, champions of human rights, ethnic and religious minorities, and women’s rights advocates.
For Chicagoans, this is an opportunity to live our values. To help those Afghans who have come to our city truly "yearning to breathe free."
Many members of the Chicago City Council have sent a letter directly to President Biden indicating their willingness to do what it takes — in partnership with the non-profit sector — to ensure we honor our commitment to these Afghans and make their resettlement a success.
Our collective mission is more than simply welcoming the refugee seeking shelter, but to deliver families — intact — to resettlement locations and help people rebuild their lives so they can thrive. These supports include language services, health services, education and job training. Our neighbors in need should be given the tools they need to rebuild their lives so they can independently succeed and find happiness.
City leaders who have committed to welcoming Afghan refugees should make it simple for Chicagoans who wish to help to do so, whether through critical monetary donations or donations of supplies or services. Simple and streamlined websites and processes need to be set up to facilitate getting help deployed as quickly as possible.
City leaders must also work together to ensure that the federal funds available to resettle those in need actually make it to the Chicago organizations prepared and qualified to help. We all must call on the federal government to expedite the funds necessary to provide the services so critical to successful resettlement.
Among the most critical needs: Safe, clean, affordable housing, ensuring that there are adequate numbers of translators, and of course the most basic necessities: food, clothing, and hygiene products. Equally important, we cannot ignore the mental health needs of the newly arrived — many will have experienced unimaginable trauma and we must have the resources in place to address those needs as well. We need to also ensure that Chicago Public Schools has the funds necessary to properly serve newly arriving Afghan students.
As we contemplate the important work ahead of us, we cannot view resettlement as purely a logistical endeavor or a “numbers game.” It is so much more. We should look every Afghan refugee we meet in the eye and thank them for their bravery and tell them — more importantly show them — that we understand our moral obligation to them, to their safety, and to their successful resettlement.
We must never forget the human toll that action in Afghanistan has taken on them and their families. As Chicagoans we must do everything in our power to honor our commitment to Afghan refugees and welcome them as neighbors and valued members of our community.
Matt Martin is alderman of Chicago's 47th Ward.
Halil Demir is executive director of the Zakat Foundation.
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