The fleeing Afghans awakened the US memory of Vietnam’s “baby stroller”


U.S. immigration update

The author is an FT special columnist

Nearly half a century ago, Aryn Lockhart fled Vietnam Baby lift operationIn the weeks before Saigon fell in the humiliating military defeat of the Vietnam War, she and 2,000 other Vietnamese orphans were airlifted to the United States for adoption.

When the United States watched images of desperate Afghans fleeing their homes after another American war, the 47-year-old Lockhart remembered that old time. “When I saw the pictures of refugees crowded on American planes, I thought,’Oh my God, this looks exactly like the pictures of baby lift operations’, but they are not babies,” she told me on the phone.

She pointed out that the Saigon airlift suffered a tragedy, just like the Afghan evacuation operation, a suicide bomb attack at Kabul airport killed 13 American soldiers and women and more than 170 civilians. The first flight of Operation Baby Lift crashed, killing 138 people, including 78 children.Lockhart, co-author Operation Baby Elevator: A Memoir of Mission Complete, Hope and Healing, Said her American adoptive parents told her that she was one of the survivors.

Former U.S. President Gerald Ford authorized air transport, calling it “the least we can do.” Now, we Americans are stepping up preparations to find “the least we can do” for refugees from another American foreign war.

Dina Smeltz, senior researcher for public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, said that US public opinion strongly supports the evacuation and resettlement of Afghans from the Taliban and resettlement of Afghans who have links to the United States, or those in danger of the Taliban. This support crosses partisan boundaries. .

Eight out of ten Americans (81%) support Evacuation and resettlement of Afghans According to a survey conducted by the Chicago City Council-IPSOS from August 23 to 26, they provided support for the United States and the Allies, including 86% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans, and 77% of independents.

This does not mean that there will be no anti-immigration backlash in the future. At Fort McCoy, a US Army base in rural Wisconsin, there are expected to be as many as 13,000 Afghan refugees. But Doug Rogala, the chairman of the local Republican Party in Monroe County and a former U.S. soldier, said: “I think the United States has an obligation to help those Afghans who have helped us, but we have a greater obligation to American citizens. I don’t believe in refugees. Has it been properly reviewed.”

Rogala made it clear that for Republicans in this swing state, President Joe Biden won with less than 1% of the vote and that not all immigrants are created equal. He said: “The problems of these refugees are much smaller than those of crossing the southern border. Immigration is not a Republican problem. Illegal immigrants are.”

Cleveland is another Midwestern city that expects Afghan refugees. Joe Cimperman, president of Global Cleveland, a non-governmental organization that works with new immigrants, said: “Someone threatened me and said,’Why do you want to welcome these people here?’, but my mother doesn’t speak English first. of, [and ] I grew up in a community dominated by immigrants,” he said, adding that during the current crisis, one of the first aids provided by former Vietnamese refugees.

Cimperman believes that the resettlement of immigrants is “Cleveland’s muscle memory”, which was originally mainly caused by Immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe“Welcoming refugees helps to make up for our loss of population, and we provide four jobs for everyone who is willing to fill them.”

But Aree Obenson, director of the St. Louis International Institute, who immigrated to the United States from Cameroon more than 20 years ago, said that the Afghan refugees, like those who came to the United States before, will be equally difficult in the cultural assimilation war. “The United States is the envy of the whole world, but when you come here, you will find how complicated it is,” he said.

Lockhart hoped that the initial welcome would not fade anytime soon. “The protection we are currently receiving is,’Well, let’s get them out, they have done a lot to help us’,” she said. “But I worry that over time people will forget who these people are…especially after they have been here for a while.”


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