61.3 F

Avoiding another humanitarian tragedy from September 11, 2001 (opinion)


Submitted by Dr. Carina Black

The University of Nevada, Reno’s Northern Nevada International Center has played a role in refugee resettlement for decades, as one of three primary pillars of service (global exchange programs and translation and interpretation services being the other two). Our nonprofit was prepared to offer assistance to displaced Afghan citizens as America removed its military presence after two decades of occupation following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

The 20 year anniversary of 9|11 is rife with think pieces, documentaries, and all manner of memorials that remind us of the pain and loss of that day. But after our withdrawal from Afghanistan, I worry we’re at risk of another humanitarian tragedy from that fateful day: turning our backs on those who helped us through the vicious spread of misinformation.

When the chaos on the tarmac of the Kabul, Afghanistan, airport unfolded on Aug. 15, our staff sat teeming with nervous energy, ready to take appropriate action as dictated by the appropriate federal and state entities we work with. Because we wanted to be cautious not to put any of our constituents in harm’s way, we were tight-lipped for the first few days about the role NNIC plays in refugee resettlement here in northern Nevada.

But it quickly became apparent that our quiet efforts to protect those who served America these last 20 years were being brazenly, vocally outmatched by those seeking to sow seeds of doubt: 

“These people are terrorists and can’t be trusted.” 
“These people aren’t being vetted properly; the process is too rushed.”
“These people are bringing COVID-19 into our country.”

So we’re being loud now.

These claims are categorically untrue. When they’re uttered, they say more about the individual who spread such harmful untruths than the individuals fleeing their very homes and lives for the chance at a safer, calmer existence. These claims always seek to paint individuals as somehow “other than,” and remind me that this organization is here to do the hard work: resettling those in need of a better life. 

Displaced Afghans are not terrorists. Afghans coming to America right now are individuals and families who helped the country after the attacks of Sept. 11, serving as translators and interpreters, finding solutions for logistics issues, navigating cities and terrains for military personnel… these are people who wanted a better life in their ancestral land who, now, no longer have that option available. They were our neighbors abroad, now they will be our neighbors stateside.

As Americans, we owe it to these neighbors to ensure their protection but it does not mean the country shirks its vetting responsibilities. Afghans coming into the country go through myriad processes to understand and ensure their ties to the country are verified and beyond reproach. They are screened for many things, health included. COVID-19 vaccines are available when they land in Virginia. 

The process may be quick, but these displaced citizens are being handled with care and concern. Spreading misinformation about those who helped us is a second tragedy. 

No matter, Northern Nevada International Center will serve as a welcoming entity for these displaced citizens, helping them find jobs, housing and a sense of community, and we invite you to be a part of this diplomatic outreach. Being a global citizen is much easier than you might think. Stay close to our work by following us on our social media accounts, where we share real-time needs. But also, you can help without going anywhere:

  • Reach out to your elected officials to let them know Afghan families deserve refuge here in the United States. 
  • Donate to organizations helping with resettlement efforts. 

Remember that misinformation has real, powerful and adverse consequences. We cannot afford to spread rumors that steal these newfound neighbors’ chance to live a calm, fulfilling life. Not after they’ve given so much for us. 

It is the least we can do. It is also the kindest thing we can do.

Dr. Carina Black is the executive director of the University of Nevada’s Northern Nevada International Center, an organization leading Nevada’s global engagement through outreach efforts and diplomacy. Learn about the nonprofit at www.nnic.org.

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article or letter to the editor here.

This Is Reno is your source for award-winning independent, online Reno news and events since 2009. We are locally owned and operated.