GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Dozens of people gathered outside of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Grand Rapids for an interfaith solidarity vigil for Afghan refugees.
Leaders from religious groups and resettlement organizations spoke to the people in attendance.
“Whenever there’s a tragedy and difficulty (or) issues, we have to show solidarity under our faith,” said Imam Sahibzada, the director of the Islamic Center of Grand Rapids.
The current situation in Afghanistan hits home for a couple of speakers at the vigil. Chris Palusky, the president and CEO of Bethany Christian Services, has lived in the country.
“I lived in Afghanistan 20 years ago,” Palusky said. “I was there under the Taliban and after the Taliban fell. I made many great friends who are trapped now in Afghanistan and been trying to get out and it’s very personal for me.”
Bethany Christian Services expects to resettle around 250 Afghan refugees in Michigan in the coming months.
Palusky says Afghans seeking relocation to America are currently being processed.
“Many people are in either U.S. military bases throughout the United States or military bases throughout the globe,” Palusky said. “They’re not allowed to leave those areas until they go through the vetting process and get tested for COVID and other things.”
Samaritas, another organization helping Afghans find a home in Michigan, will help resettle around 300 Afghans statewide. Around 100 of the refugees are expected to settle in West Michigan.
U.S. Congressman Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids, spoke at the vigil. He recently visited Afghanistan.
“Incredible how tense it was at those gates,” Meijer said. “Just tens of thousands of people feeling like they were getting left behind. People collapsing of dehydration, getting trampled, incredibly tense setup.”
Meijer introduced legislation that will help Afghans who don’t have a direct connection to the U.S. military, but nonetheless find themselves in danger, leave the country.
“We’ve seen a lot of targeted harassment and threats against Afghan journalists who work for groups like Voice of America, for Afghans who worked in the humanitarian aid sector for groups that were supporting the U.S. mission, but maybe not in a military sense,” Meijer said.