Vatican Urges Countries to Accept Refugees from Afghanistan

The U.S. has facilitated the evacuation of more than 70,000 people from the Kabul airport, with 21,600 people evacuated from Afghanistan over the course of 24 hours on Aug. 24, according to the Pentagon.

Early morning in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Early morning in Kabul, Afghanistan. (photo: Mohammad Rahmani via Unsplash / Mohammad Rahmani via Unsplash)

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican diplomat has urged countries to “move from declaration to action” by welcoming refugees from Afghanistan. 

In a speech to the emergency session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the situation in Afghanistan, Monsignor John Putzer said that the Holy See was calling on all parties to uphold the “human dignity and fundamental rights of every person.”

He underlined that this included “the right to life, the freedom of religion, the right to freedom of movement and the right to peaceful assembly.”

“At this critical time, it is of vital importance to support the success and safety of humanitarian efforts within the country, in a spirit of international solidarity, so as not to lose the progress that has been made, especially in the areas of healthcare and education,” Monsignor Putzer said in Geneva, Switzerland, on Aug. 24.

Monsignor Putzer serves as the chargé d’affaires of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva. A native of Wisconsin, the American priest served in the Vatican diplomatic corps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo before moving to Geneva.

He said that the Holy See had been following the situation in Afghanistan with “great concern” and was hoping for a “peaceful and swift resolution” through dialogue.

“The Holy See ... remains convinced that inclusive dialogue represents the most powerful tool for achieving such peace and calls on the entire international community to move from declaration to action by welcoming refugees in a spirit of human fraternity,” he said.

Taliban fighters swept through large swathes of the country and captured the capital, Kabul, on Aug. 15. The group’s rapid advance came as many Afghan civilians and U.S. citizens were still seeking to leave the country before the complete withdrawal of U.S. and other forces.

The U.S. has facilitated the evacuation of more than 70,000 people from the Kabul airport, with 21,600 people evacuated from Afghanistan over the course of 24 hours on Aug. 24, according to the Pentagon. 

President Joe Biden has said that he plans to stick to an Aug. 31 deadline for evacuations, despite requests from allied forces to extend the deadline to ensure that their citizens and at-risk Afghans can get out safely.

“Every day we’re on the ground is another day that we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both us and allied forces and innocent civilians,” Biden said at the White House on Aug. 24.

The U.K. government has announced plans to accept 20,000 Afghan refugees in coming years, according to the BBC. Canada has also announced that it will help to resettle 20,000 Afghans.

Uganda has agreed to take in 2,000 Afghan refugees. India is granting emergency visas to Afghan nationals for the next six months, and Mexico has also already welcomed asylum seekers arriving from Afghanistan.

In Europe, some countries are more hesitant. The Swiss government has said that it will not accept large groups of refugees from Afghanistan and Austria will not take in any Afghan refugees.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), has said that he is “ashamed” of some European countries’ responses to the situation in Afghanistan.

“We had given hope to this people and now we have left them in Dante’s Inferno. And then I feel shame. Shame on Europe and on the West. We talk so much about values. But where are our values in Afghanistan now?” Hollerich said, according to the Italian news agency SIR.

The cardinal urged EU countries to “act according to your conscience.”

The Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. During that time, a strict interpretation of Islamic law was imposed and girls were not permitted to go to school.

Human rights advocates have expressed concern that, with the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan and changing the name to the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Sharia law will likely be imposed stringently.

Under Sharia, including in Afghanistan prior to the Taliban takeover, apostasy from Islam is punishable by death.

At the emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Nasir Ahmad Andisha, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said that there had been serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses already documented in the country.

“Violations are already taking place as we speak,” he said.

Another speaker at the special session made an appeal for Christians and other religious minorities whose lives are threatened by the Taliban.

Giorgio Mazzoli, a legal officer representing the Christian group ADF International at the U.N., said that he wished to call the council’s attention to “the dire plight of religious minority communities in Afghanistan.”

He said that religious minorities in Afghanistan had “already been living in a hostile legal and social environment for decades and are now at extreme risk of being targeted with deadly violence.”

“Among them are an estimated ten thousand Christians, many of whom ‘guilty’ of converting from Islam — a crime punishable by death under Sharia law,” he said.

“As disturbing accounts of killings, harassment, and intimidation against them are rapidly emerging, we urge States and the international community to give utmost attention to these persecuted minorities and guarantee the conditions for their prompt and safe exit from the country, irrespective of whether they have valid travel documents.”

Mazzoli also called on governments to temporarily halt deportations to Afghanistan and to reconsider rejected asylum applications from Afghans who fear “persecution because of their faith or beliefs.”

“The harrowing prospects for freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, compounded by a deepening humanitarian crisis, are forcing thousands of Afghan men, women, and children into displacement within the country, and compelling many more to seek escape from persecution and oppression,” he said.

“The unfolding situation on the ground requires an immediate, robust and coordinated response from the international community, whereby respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is considered as an absolute prerequisite for a credible peace and reconciliation process.”

Oscar Wergeland, “Service in a German Village Church,” ca. 1880

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