While standing by to welcome Afghans fleeing possible Taliban vengeance, Catholic Charities of Oregon is urging the Biden administration to increase the limit on the number of refugees who can enter the country.

“Our hearts are broken knowing that our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan are suffering,” said Vanessa Briseño, director of the Pope Francis Center at Catholic Charities. “In partnerships with our federal government, the State of Oregon and the nation’s Catholic bishops, Catholic Charities stands ready to serve Afghan refugees who seek safety and refuge in Oregon.”

Catholic Charities is one of three refugee resettlement agencies in Oregon aiding migrants who must leave their homelands who fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

Matthew Westerbeck, director of refugee services for Catholic Charities, said thousands of people each day are trying to leave from the Kabul airport and other ports of entry as Taliban forces complete their takeover of the landlocked nation, which borders Iran, Pakistan and a set of former Soviet republics.

Priority is going to Afghans who helped the U.S. military and diplomats during a failed two-decade effort to establish a stable democracy. The Biden administration said about 22,000 people fit that category. Some are almost certain to be resettled in Oregon in the coming months.

Westerbeck said details are yet to emerge from federal agencies, but he estimates that Portland, Salem and Eugene could welcome a total of 200 to 400 Afghans.

“We are ramping up quickly as we can,” said Westerbeck, who also is on the lookout for volunteers who might help with welcoming refugees at the airport, searching for housing, finding jobs, tutoring children and orienting refugees to their cities, including public transport.

“We want the community to have opportunities to work with these new neighbors,” Westerbeck said.

He explained that no special security will be needed, but if a family wants to remain more hidden, Catholic Charities will accommodate that.

After welcoming those who aided U.S. efforts, Catholic Charities expects more everyday Afghans will want to flee a nation led by the Taliban, which has promised more tolerance, but has a history of hardline oppression and violence, especially against women and Christians.

“This is our calling to welcome our brothers and sisters,” Westerbeck said. “We are all one family. We are deeply honored to be able to help respond to this crisis and help these families rebuild their lives.”

Catholic Charities of Oregon has resettled Afghan families in the past few decades. Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, which includes the Archdiocese of Portland, also has a refugee ministry that has welcomed Afghans in the past. EMO issued a statement urging the Taliban to respect the dignity and rights of all people.

“We recognize the urgency for a wider humanitarian response to all people wishing to leave that country, and we remain poised with our faith community and resettlement partners to receive them here,” said an Aug. 17 statement from EMO.



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