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LI Sikh leaders seek refugee status for Sikh, Hindus after Afghanistan terrorist attack

Mohinder Singh Taneja, spokesperson for Sikh American community,

Mohinder Singh Taneja, spokesperson for Sikh American community, poses at the center in Plainview on Feb. 27. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Long Island Sikh community leaders want the United States to give refugee status to several hundred Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, whose communities have been hit by terrorist attacks.

The local leaders say they have reached out to U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) seeking guidance. But at a time when attention is focused on the coronavirus pandemic, the Sikh representatives said they have not yet made any formal requests of the U.S. government. Meanwhile, Suozzi, in a statement, expressed support for their cause.

"We have to follow up that properly so the action can be taken [by the] U.S. government," said Mohinder Singh Taneja, a Sikh community spokesman. "As of now, I did speak to Congressman Suozzi a few days back. But officially we haven’t reached out in a way, or started the process of getting people from Afghanistan," Taneja said in an interview this week.

In a recent letter to Newsday, Paramjit Singh Bedi laid out his concerns, highlighting a terror attack by ISIS March 25 that killed "25 Sikhs at their Gurdwara, (Sikh Prayer Center) 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's letter, in calling for allowing those "trapped in Afghanistan" to come to the United States, concluded: "I urge Long Island’s congressional delegation and our nation’s federal agencies to intervene on their behalf before it’s too late."

Bedi, who lives in Muttontown and is originally from Afghanistan, said in an interview there were about 650 of his former countrymen who wanted to come to the United States because "their lives are not safe there." He noted a 2018 terror attack killed 17 Sikhs and Hindus in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Suozzi, in a statement Friday, said: "I support and continue to advocate for religious freedom around the world. Attacks on any community based on faith are unacceptable. As a member of the Congressional Sikh Caucus, and a former member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I join my colleagues in urging the administration to lift the restrictions they have placed on allowing refugees into the United States and I have spoken with Chairman [Eliot] Engel about the Sikhs in Afghanistan."

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