This year’s celebration of World Refugee Day is more important than ever. We offer the following resources for study, prayer, and action in support of refugees.
As the trend of chronic violent conflicts continues, Maryknoll missioners are encountering more and more vulnerable people on the move—in Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, South Sudan, Haiti, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, to name a few. The United Nations reported last year that the world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record:
“An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.
There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.
Nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution.”
You can learn more about the data, where refugees are coming, the top hosting countries, and much more at the UN High Commission for Refugees website.
‘We have been largely failing’
Nearly one year ago, in response to the growing global migration crisis, the United Nations hosted the first-ever UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants in New York. Maryknoll Father David Schwinghamer, who has lived and worked in Tanzania, and Maryknoll Sister Elizabeth Zwareva, who has lived and worked in Zimbabwe and Bolivia, were in attendance. Representatives of organizations and governments from around the world discussed the root causes of the current migration crisis and proposed a response in the New York Declaration.
“The bitter truth is this summit was called because we have been largely failing – failing the long-suffering people of Syria in not ending the war in its infancy,” Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in his speech at the opening session.
People fleeing war in Syria make up the largest group of refugees in the world. Afghanistan is the second largest source of refugees. South Sudan recently displaced Somalia as the third largest source of refugees. In February, the UNHCR said that 1.5 million refugees have now fled South Sudan—more than half of them children.
'Refugees are not numbers'
“As people of faith, our values call us to welcome the stranger, love our neighbor, and stand with the vulnerable, regardless of their religion.” We wrote these words in a letter to all members of Congress in November, 2015. We joined more than 400 religious leaders calling on the United States to welcome Syrian refugees from all faith traditions. Pope Francis has also spoken out in support of welcoming refugees many times, even welcoming Syrian refugees to live at the Vatican, and launching a new website for the Vatican's Migrants & Refugees Section, which is personally directed by Pope Francis. On April 16, 2016, Pope Francis tweeted:
Maryknoll Sister Rosemarie Milazzo (pictured on left, hugging a refugee in Kurdistan, Iraq in 2015) wrote about her encounters with refugees in Iraq in Maryknoll Magazine. "What is it like to be a refugee in a camp?" Sister Ro wrote. "The children run around, while parents try to keep busy with some of the ordinary duties of parenting. I watched young adults sitting, waiting. So many of the young men in the camp have no work and no opportunity for school. They just sit and wait."
Maryknoll Lay Missioner Greg Fischer in Brazil has created "Rostos da Migração / Faces of Migration" an online photo and video journal of refugees and migrants in Brazil. In this 3-minute video, Greg presents the story of Auturo, a father of two children who fled Colombia because of threats of violence and now lives in São Paulo. Listen as Auturo shares his story in his own words in Spanish, with English and Portuguese subtitles. You can search the website (Rostos.org) for more stories from refugees and migrants from around the world and follow the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/rostosdm, where migrants and refugees tell their stories in their own words.
In January, we joined dozens of religious leaders in a letter to President Trump asking him to “demonstrate moral leadership and affirm their support for the resettlement of refugees from all over the world to the United States.”
The letter described the United States' rich history as a leader in refugee resettlement, with significant precedent, including after World War II and after the fall of Saigon, when we resettled hundreds of thousands of refugees. It also recognized that the United States has the most rigorous refugee screening process in the world.
The U.S. Refugee Resettlement program has been and should remain open to those of all nationalities and religions who face persecution on account of the reasons enumerated under U.S. law. We oppose any policy change that would prevent refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, or individuals who practice Islam and other faiths from accessing the U.S. refugee resettlement program.
“Together, representing our various faiths,” the letter concluded, “we decry derogatory language that has been used about Middle Eastern refugees and our Muslim friends and neighbors. Inflammatory rhetoric has no place in our response to this humanitarian crisis.”
We pray for refugees
The U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants Campaign offers a toolkit for Catholic parishes which includes the following prayer:
Send a letter: Ask your members of Congress and governor to welcome refugees: http://bit.ly/USWelcomeRefugees
Make a phone call: Every day leading up to World Refugee Day, the Stand with Refugees Campaign invites you to call your members of Congress. Call 1-844-4STAND5 and get connected to your members of Congress.
Here’s a sample script: “Hello, my name is (Name) and I live in (City or Zip Code). I would like to leave a message for the Senator/Representative. World Refugee Day is June 20. As a person of faith, I want the U.S. to be a welcoming country for refugees. Please keep refugee resettlement funding intact and accept at least 75,000 refugees into the United States this year. Thank you.”
On Tuesday, June 20, and beyond: Join an event near you. The U.S. Catholic Bishops offer a map of events around the country that are happening throughout the week.
If you are in Washington, D.C, please join us for a Stand with Refugees Rally at the White House at 5 p.m. As we continue to fight against anti-refugee and anti-immigrant policies, this will be an important moment to celebrate the contributions refugees bring to our communities and to urge our elected officials to resettle at least 75,000 refugees next year.