By Reena Bhardwaj
Washington [US], April 19 (ANI): The Afghan Sikh community living in the United States has urged the Indian Government to help in the resettlement of the Sikhs living in Afghanistan, terming it to be the only 'viable' option for the 650 people who are hard hit by the violence in the country.
Encouraged by the steps taken in the past by the Indian government, the Afghan Sikh community leaders have made an appeal to India to accommodate the Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan and grant them legal entry and with long term multiple entry visas.
The community leaders living in the United States said it is imperative to alleviate the dire situation of religious minorities in Afghanistan who look to India as the only safe haven in the region.
Speaking to ANI, Afghan American Paramjit Singh Bedi, Chairman of Afghanistan Committee for Global Sikh Council, said, "At a time when the attention is focused on the coronavirus pandemic and India is under lockdown, we understand India's worry but I still urge GoI to take quick action as we fear the safety of the Sikhs living in Afghanistan."
"We further request the Modi government to arrange a special flight from Kabul and request India to intervene as soon as possible on their (Sikhs in Afghanistan) behalf before it's too late," Bedi said.
Bedi laid out his concerns, highlighting the terror attack by ISIS March 25 that killed 25 Sikhs at their gurdwara in Kabul. "The victims included women, the elderly, and a four-year-old girl. They had gathered to pray that morning for the health and recovery of people afflicted with COVID-19, but their lives were cut short by religious bigotry," Bedi recounted the tragic terror attack.
Indian Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu has expressed solidarity with Sikh community of Afghanistan. "India has always stood in solidarity with the Sikh and Hindu community in Afghanistan and extended help and refuge in difficult circumstances," he tweeted on Friday.
Meanwhile, ANI reached out to the US Department of State to understand US' commitment of bringing the persecuted Afghan Sikh and Hindu group to safety. A Department spokesperson told ANI that its leadership, including ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, are aware of the gravity of the Sikh community's situation in Afghanistan.
"I met last week with a number of members of the Sikh community in the United States about trying to help out with the resolution of the crisis for the Sikhs in Afghanistan. Those discussions are ongoing. I think they're ongoing with a number of branches within the U.S. Government," Ambassador Brownback told ANI.
"I don't know of any decisions that have been reached at this time, but it is a dire situation for the Sikhs in Afghanistan, and many of them, if not the entire community, seeks to leave Afghanistan to get to a safer place for their community after these attacks have taken place. We will continue to work with them, but I don't have any announcements at this time," he added.
The Department of State's spokesperson also told ANI that it is deeply concerned about the violence perpetrated and threatened against Sikhs and other religious minorities in Afghanistan.
The spokesperson also added that Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has condemned the recent attacks against the Sikh community in Kabul and has urged all Afghans to come together to negotiate a political settlement to help confront the militant group that is threatening the safety of that community and others.
"Sikhs constitute an important part of the fabric of Afghan society. We encourage and welcome outreach by the Government of Afghanistan to reassure the Sikh community of the importance attached to their safety and continued contribution to Afghanistan," the spokesperson further told ANI.
"I remain deeply concerned about the safety of the Sikh community in Afghanistan. Afghan Sikhs have long been an integral part of the multicultural tapestry of Afghanistan and Afghans must come together now to ensure the security of religious minorities," senior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells tweeted.
US' House Foreign Affairs Committee has also urged Trump Administration to consider Afghan Sikhs and Hindus for emergency refugee protection under the Fiscal Year 2020 US Refugee Admissions Program.
"Concerned for the safety of the Sikh community in Afghanistan, recently targeted by ISIS, and urge the administration to consider Afghan Sikhs and Hindus for emergency refugee protection under the Fiscal Year 2020 U.S. Refugee Admissions Program," House Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted. (ANI)