• September 27, 2021

Exclusive: Senators say unspent funds should go to aiding Afghan refugees, not ‘already bloated’ defense budget

 Exclusive: Senators say unspent funds should go to aiding Afghan refugees, not ‘already bloated’ defense budget

“With the legacies of Iraq and Afghanistan to guide us, it is very clear that we need to move away from a military dominated foreign policy to one built on a foundation of diplomacy, humanitarian and economic assistance, and cooperation with partners and allies,” legislators write, noting an urgent message from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees amid the evacuation of thousands of Afghan refugees this summer. 

“The challenge ahead is immense,” legislators said. “Filippo Grandi, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, warned that a ‘humanitarian crisis is just beginning,’ as up to 500,000 Afghans are likely to seek refuge outside of the country by the end of the year and half of the country’s population are in need of aid. Just as Operation Allies Refuge was a visible display of U.S. commitment to evacuate Afghan allies out of harm’s way, we can and must show our commitment to the displaced and non-displaced Afghan people, alike.”

While U.S. refugee resettlement agencies and advocates have said they’ve been inundated with public support—“We have never seen this kind of increase in people wanting to volunteer,” one agency leader told The Washington Post late last month—the federal government’s humanitarian support for Afghans has frankly been severely lacking in comparison to what it dedicated to the war that’s displaced countless people. “Incredibly, the nearly $300 million we dedicated for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan this fiscal year is approximately the same as the amount our military spent in Afghanistan every single day,” legislators noted.

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) president Krish O’Mara Vignarajah told the Post that the refugee resettlement agency has raised nearly $2 million in donations in the past month. “The organization’s office space is covered ‘wall to wall’ with diapers, kitchenware and school supplies, she said. One pastor recently drove four hours from Roanoke to the LIRS office to drop off a van-load of supplies.” But more support is always needed: LIRS “had closed more than a third of its offices and laid off or furloughed workers, moves it attributed to Trump’s policies and the pandemic,” the report continued.

“As we close the chapter on the wars started following September 11, 2001, so, too, should we end the bloated military budgets that accompanied them,” legislators conclude. “It would be an abdication of our duty to American taxpayers and to the Afghans who have supported our efforts for two decades if we continue to pour money into the Department of Defense, rather than meet the humanitarian needs of our Afghan friends and partners.”

Nearly 70 legislators led by anti-war stalwart Barbara Lee and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have also called on the administration to raise the refugee cap for the 2022 fiscal year, citing “vulnerable Afghans who are in grave danger following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.” President Biden had previously pledged to raise the cap to 125,000 in the next full fiscal year. Currently it’s at 62,500. Legislators are calling on him to raise it to at least 200,000.

“After decades of disastrous U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, one thing is clear: we have a moral responsibility to provide safe harbor and refuge for the Afghan people. Now, the growing humanitarian crisis is further exposing the horrific costs of our endless wars,” they wrote. “The United States must do everything in its power to protect those who have borne the brunt of this decades-long conflict, especially Afghans who are at increased risk of persecution or death by the Taliban …”

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