The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Afghan refugees will know indifference, bigotry — and also kindness — in America. They will also make it better.

Refugees from Afghanistan walk through Dulles International Airport on Aug. 31. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg News)
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The mayhem and misery at the gates of Kabul’s airport ended with the departure of U.S. troops on Monday, but thousands of Afghan evacuees will continue to arrive in this country for months or years to come, human reminders of the United States’ troubled 20-year intervention. Already, thousands or tens of thousands have landed here; in the chaos of a rushed airlift of massive proportions, the government has been unable to provide hard numbers.

Already, what is most striking about them is their familiarity. Americans know these refugees, just as we knew the desperate, disoriented newcomers who preceded them from every cranny of Europe, from Southeast Asia, from the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Like so many in those waves, plenty of these newest refugees are arriving with little or nothing to their names: no baggage, no money, no jobs, no conception of what shape their new lives will assume; many have few possessions beyond the clothes they are wearing and their cellphones and chargers.

And like many before them, they will be greeted by Americans, their new neighbors, with a mixture of indifference, bigotry and kindness.

The indifference, from Americans who long ago stopped caring about the U.S. project in Afghanistan, may not surprise the Afghans. The contradiction of bigotry and kindness may.

Both are already on display. The bigotry oozes forth from former president Donald Trump, who set the exodus in motion by signing a deal with the Taliban last year to seal the U.S. departure and now, along with others in his party’s nativist ranks, warns of terrorists infiltrating American communities, masquerading as refugees. In fact, the number of refugees, Muslims or otherwise, who have carried out terrorist attacks in this country is minuscule. But Mr. Trump and his Republican acolytes at Fox News, in Congress and elsewhere sense political gain in conjuring fear, so conjure they do.

Newly arrived Afghans may be more directly touched by the kindness of Americans in the communities where they settle after leaving the military bases that are their first stops, way stations for processing, paperwork and security vetting.

Airbnb reports an enthusiastic response from hosts, in the United States and overseas, to the company’s generous initiative to cover the cost of temporary housing for 20,000 Afghan refugees. Many offered to house the refugees free of charge. Uber and Lyft have donated ride credits for refugees to the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit group. Resettlement and aid organizations report droves of volunteers approaching them for advice on how to help, with their money, time and material donations.

We’ve seen this movie before, and we know, too, how its plot is likely to develop. The newcomers will face daunting struggles, some with language, or jobs, money and cultural acclimation. Their children, their lives divided between immigrant homes and American schools, will struggle, too, but many will strive and succeed — often beyond their parents’ wildest imaginings.

They will become as thoroughly American as their native-born peers, and their energy, ambition and pluck will be an enduring gift to their new country.

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