BURLINGTON, Vt. (WFFF) — Vermont is starting to see more Afghan refugees arrive at Burlington International Airport after they were delayed at military bases for weeks. Several families are scheduled to arrive this week, and when it’s all said and done, Vermont will welcome 100 new refugees, each arriving after months of escalating conflict in Afghanistan.
Already, we’ve seen efforts to help them feel welcomed in Vermont. Freelance photographer James Buck has been around the world documenting the struggles of refugees and survivors of major disasters for relief organizations.
“When there’s a major global crisis, it’s the job of a photographer to kind of witness and to let people understand the experience and open their hearts to their fellow human beings, that’s what I see myself doing,” Buck said.
But, his latest photos were taken aboard an American Airlines flight en route to Burlington on Friday. He noticed there was a family of Afghan refugees onboard, and offered to help translate for them. “My heart just lit up, I really wanted to be there for them because I know they were having trouble with flight attendants and getting seated,” Buck said. “They were a family with five kids having trouble getting translation happening.”
Buck said he’s been unable to go to Afghanistan and capture the ongoing conflict, but he’s been doing some work from the outside, including helping refugees get visas. “I’m in regular contact with Afghans in Kabul who are changing location day-by-day because they’re being hunted by the Taliban,” Buck said. “They’re so afraid of what could happen to them.”
His message to this family was a simple one: “I am your friend.” Why did he feel that message in particular was important to get across?
“The first thing I try to do is make people feel comfortable. Some of the best photo shoots I’ve had didn’t end in a photo shoot. They ended in a hug,” Buck said. “What I really wanted for that family was to feel safe and welcomed to this terrifying new place they were coming to.”
State Refugee Director Tracy Dolan said the holdup for refugees at military bases has been caused in large part by the sheer amount of people looking to come to the U.S. More families are expected to arrive next week.