Editorial | Afghan refugees deserve a home in Iowa

Iowa needs to welcome Afghan Refugees into the state.


Aug 26, 2021; Dulles, VA, USA; Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia while en route to military facilities in the U.S.  Mandatory Credit: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY

DI Editorial Board

It is time for Iowa City to accept and help resettle Afghan refugees.

America’s 20-year nation-building experiment in Afghanistan has failed. In the past few weeks, the Taliban — without firing a single shot — waltzed into Kabul as the American-backed Afghan government collapsed.

The harrowing scenes of Afghans falling onto the tarmac from the landing gear of airplanes have been etched into the global psyche as many Afghans desperately tried to get inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport, one of the only gateways out of the country. A suicide bombing outside the airport killed 183 people, including 13 U.S. soldiers.

In spite of all the chaos, the U.S. and its allies have managed to evacuate 117,000 Afghans. Many of them will head to the U.S. to start new lives as refugees, and Iowa City would be a great destination for them.

The right thing to do

Afghans coming to America barely escaped with their lives. The Taliban, a cutthroat movement of extremist Islamist fighters, have reimplemented their draconian version of sharia over Afghanistan.

Despite saying that they will be willing to moderate their doctrine, the Taliban have already begun to crack down on girls’ education, music, and on anything that remotely goes against their theocratic doctrine.

Furthermore, the group has started hunting down and executing Afghans who worked closely with American forces as interpreters and contractors. In short, the Taliban takeover has created an atmosphere of fear and hopelessness. It’s only right for Iowa City to take in and help Afghan refugees start a new life.

Of course, there has been a strong push back by right-wing commentators regarding accepting Afghan refugees. The likes of Tucker Carlson and Stephen Miller began to raise alarm bells about how Afghan refugees could be a potential security threat, insinuating that some of the Afghans coming into the country are terrorists looking to strike in the U.S.

This line of argumentation is incredibly shallow, meant to drum up anti-refugee sentiment among the conservative base. The reality is that refugees are not looking to bring harm onto Americans. There is a 1 in 3.64 billion chance that a refugee will commit a murder on U.S. soil. An American is more likely to get struck by lightning — twice.

Refugees make Iowa City better

Iowa City already knows the positive impact that refugees can have on society. From the mid-90s to the early 2000s, hundreds of Sudanese refugees, fleeing political persecution and war, settled in Iowa City. Over the next 20 years, those refugees built the foundations of a flourishing Sudanese American community that has provided cultural, economic, and civic contributions to Iowa City in return.

They are our fellow students, doctors, lawyers, and lawmakers, working hard to make Iowa City the thriving and vibrant town that we all love. In fact, Iowa City City Council member Mazahir Salih was the first Sudanese American to be elected to public office in the U.S.

The example of Sudanese Americans in Iowa City shows that refugee resettlement not only allows for refugees to live a safe life, but also provides benefits toward residents.

One of the most documented phenomena of refugee resettlement is that it creates job opportunities for refugees as well as those born in the city. Migration economists contend that when refugees arrive in a host country, they encourage the native population to specialize and increase the amount of skills they have, thus inducing upward mobility.

Furthermore, refugees tend to be more entrepreneurial than their native counterparts. It is estimated that, although they only make up about 15 percent of the population, migrants and refugees account for 25 percent of all entrepreneurs.

Through their businesses, these migrant entrepreneurs are responsible for employing tens of thousands of non-refugees. Finally, refugees generate more income than it takes to provide for them. Statistical analysis shows that for every, $120 to $126 spent on supporting a refugee, that refugee will add  $205 to $253 into the local economy.

In 2001, when U.S. forces decimated the Taliban and took back Afghanistan, it gave the Afghan people hope — hope that there will be an Afghanistan without violence, an Afghanistan where boys and girls can go to school together, where men don’t have to wear long beards, and women can work outside the home.

This hope turned out to be false, as four successive U.S. presidential administrations and top military brass developed a callous attitude toward the landlocked country. America set up an Afghan government that could not govern, then forgot about Afghanistan for 15 years as the Taliban regained their strength. Once most U.S. forces pulled out, Afghanistan was there for the taking.

However, there is still a chance for us to at least somewhat repent for the mistakes of our policymakers. By making Iowa City a welcoming place for refugees fleeing the violence in Afghanistan, we will make an already diverse and welcoming community into a place where Afghans can thrive and maybe find that lost hope.

Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the publisher, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.

Editorial board members are Caleb McCullough, Rylee Wilson, Josie Fischels, Hannah Pinski, Shahab Khan, and Sophie Stover.