Vt. Governor Sees ‘Moral Obligation' to Welcome Refugees from Afghanistan

Vermont has offered to welcome some of the people evacuated from Afghanistan

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Vermont’s governor wants to welcome refugees from Afghanistan, saying it’s the right thing to do.

“I think we have a moral obligation to welcome people into our country who are from war-torn countries like Afghanistan,” Phil Scott, a Republican, told NECN & NBC10 Boston Thursday.

News coverage in recent weeks has shown evacuees from Afghanistan — U.S. allies — leaving in air lifts from their country, fearing for their safety after the Taliban took control.

Now, some of those people could be coming to Vermont.

A group of about 50 refugees arrived in Chantilly, Va., Monday as part of “Operation Allies Refuge.”

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants is offering to accept roughly 100 Afghans in Vermont over the next several weeks, according to state officials. The number could perhaps grow to more than 300 by the end of 2021, though that total could include refugees from other nations.

The invite had not yet been formally approved by the U.S. State Department by midday Thursday, but if it’s okayed, refugees could start arriving in Vermont soon, according to the Vermont State Refugee Office.

“They’re getting medical clearance, they’re getting security clearance,” noted Tracy Dolan, a former deputy state health commissioner who recently took a job leading the refugee office.

Dolan said in an interview Thursday with NECN and NBC10 Boston that if the U.S. State Department approves the invite, Vermont’s first Afghan refugees would likely go to the Burlington area — where they’d get support finding housing, transportation, work, and community.

“These are families and individuals who have put their lives on the line for our troops, for our nongovernmental organizations,” Dolan said. “These are people attached to the media who have been bringing these stories forward and they are really in danger. [It is] so important that we can provide a safe landing place for them.”

Gov. Scott said refugees can help the state, too. He explained many Vermont companies still struggle to find workers, and Vermont’s population is among the very oldest, on average, in the country.

“And that leads to workforce challenges,” the governor emphasized. “So again, with the moral obligation and the practical obligation we have to the state and the people of the state, this works very well.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said in a written statement Wednesday that he was “gratified” by the offer to provide Afghans with refuge from violence and persecution from the Taliban and extremists in Afghanistan. The longest-serving U.S. senator pointed out how many of the refugees supported U.S. military and government personnel — at great personal risk.

“Vermont has a long history of warmly welcoming refugees who have become an integral part of communities across our state,” Sen. Leahy wrote. “They have made Vermont stronger. It is fitting that Vermont is stepping up yet again to offer safe haven to vulnerable Afghans in their hour of need.”

Dolan said dozens of offers have already come in from individuals and businesses willing to help Afghan refugees settle in Vermont if the State Department approves the plan.

Dolan said people interested in volunteering for or donating to the Vermont operations of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants can learn more about the group’s work through this website.

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