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Southeast Asians are helping Afghan refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.

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by Jenn Fang

This story was originally published at Prism.

The United States’ military withdrawal from Afghanistan has led to massive social and political destabilization, repeating a painful cycle all too familiar to many Southeast Asian Americans. As hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees fled the country to escape Taliban rule, the harrowing images of refugees crowding Kabul airport seeking evacuation triggered painful personal and familial memories of escaping Southeast Asia in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. Seeing echoes of their own trauma play out once more in Afghanistan has also inspired many to add their voices to the global call to resettle Afghan refugees, especially in light of the Biden administration’s recent decision to raise the number of refugees the U.S. will accept per year.

Dr. Anh Thu Bui, board member and chair of the Leadership Development Committee for the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT), said many Southeast Asian Americans understand the current mental and emotional toll on Afghan refugees, who are losing their homelands and trying to preserve their families’ lives—all while they watch their world fall apart. Bui and her family narrowly escaped the Fall of Saigon when she was nine years old.

“We really don’t want anyone else to go through the same trauma,” Bui said. “We want to figure out how we can evacuate as many [Afghan] allies as possible, so they don’t have to go through what we had to go through.”

Their own history of trauma and displacement has led to widespread support among Southeast Asian American communities for the U.S. resettlement of Afghan refugees. Kham Moua, director of national policy for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), said that for many Southeast Asians, the war in Southeast Asia still largely informs their history and experiences. Seeing what’s happening in Afghanistan has brought it all back to the surface for these communities.

“It’s nearly impossible for us to look at these photos and to not compare it to what our people went through in the chaos of the U.S.s’ exit from Southeast Asia, and how that left our people feeling abandoned and having to fend for ourselves,” Moua said. “Those feelings are still very fresh for us, and that’s why we’ve seen support for resettlement efforts for Afghan refugees from all elements of Southeast Asian communities.”

Bui is one of many Southeast Asian Americans who see Afghan resettlement as a chance to pay forward the chance for freedom and opportunity they received as refugees to America. Bui underscores the symbolic position that America holds as a beacon of hope that has drawn many refugees and immigrants to its shores, and she hopes that Afghan refugees—like many Southeast Asian Americans—can be given a chance to build a new life in the U.S.

“As refugees and immigrants, we know America’s potential to be amazing and great, and we want to continue to grow and build that America that allows people to start over and build something new,” Bui said.

Others see resettlement as a moral obligation that extends from America’s history of military imperialism, including its military interventions in Southeast Asia as well as its 20-year occupation of Afghanistan. Writer Maz Do, whose father and paternal family narrowly escaped the fall of Saigon, said it’s important to remember that like Southeast Asian refugees before them, Afghan refugees are ultimately paying the price for American military intervention.

“America created a proxy war in Vietnam, and they’ve done the same thing in Afghanistan,” Do said.

“The U.S. has definitely had a long-standing idea of itself as policing the world ever since World........

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