Community advocate agrees with Biden’s support for relocating Afghan Sikhs, Hindus to US

Rajdeep Singh Jolly

Indica News Bureau-

A community advocate and lawyer has praised former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic Party nominee for president, for issuing a statement in support of emergency refugee protection for Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to relocate to the U.S.

BIden said that if he is elected president he will restore the US’s “role as the world’s leader in welcoming people fleeing violence and persecution.”

“With the recent uptick in violence in Afghanistan, including a horrifying attack this week on a hospital maternity ward, I want to express my concern about the situation facing Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, including the terrorist attack on Sikhs at the Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul in March,” Biden said in the May 14 statement. “Sikhs and Hindus are not outsiders living in Afghanistan. They are Afghan, and a vital part of the country’s heritage.”

In March, an Islamic State gunman killed 25 worshippers  – including a 4-year-old girl – and wounding eight at a Sikh house of worship – a gurdwara – in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Within hours of the attack, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Rajdeep Singh Jolly, a lawyer and lobbyist representing the Afghan community in Washington, D.C., cited past attacks as cause for concern, including a 2018 suicide bombing in Jalalabad by a regional Islamic State affiliate that killed 19 people, including most of the senior leadership of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities.

“According to the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Afghan Sikhs and Hindus number less than 1,000 and experience systemic religious discrimination,” Jolly said in an email to indica. “I am concerned Afghan Sikhs and Hindus will face genocide if international troops leave Afghanistan and religious extremists regain control of that country.”

In addition to the humanitarian and human rights implications of the Trump’s policies, the situation in Afghanistan could be a political liability for the president’s re-election.

“There are large Indian-American populations in states and congressional districts that will determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, and so if the Trump administration declines to grant refugee protection to Afghan Sikhs and Hindus whose lives are in imminent danger, this could create problems for Republicans when Indian-American voters go to the polls in November,” Jolly said in an email to indica.

Jolly called a solution offered by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Alice Wells, suggested in a tweet last month, that it is up to the Afghan government too protect Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, as inadequate.

Jolly said the answer might well rest in the Trump administration’s proposed resettling 18,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2020, including up to 5,000 individuals who have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion and other protected grounds, and up 7,500 individuals referred by a U.S. embassy in any location.

Biden,  in his statement, criticized the Trump administration’s refugee policy, saying “has used the pandemic as an excuse to suspend refugee admissions and deny the right to seek asylum in the United States.”

“The intense persecution these communities have faced in recent decades is an unspeakable tragedy,” Biden said. “I vividly recall when, in the mid-1990s, the Taliban sought to make Sikhs and Hindus wear yellow to identify them as non-Muslims. The recent attack against Afghanistan’s Sikh community demonstrates once again the dangerous conditions for religious minorities.”

US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, a Republican appointed to the job by President Trump in 2017, has said the attack on the Sikhs in Afghanistan were terrible tragedies for a “wonderful, peaceful religious group” that has been virtually wiped out in Afghanistan with just a thousand left, according to published reports.