What a week in the news. I might add an explanation point to that statement but it might sound as though I’m excited about everything that’s happened – which certainly isn’t the case. I’d really rather add a sad face emoji as punctuation. I have been grieving over the senseless and cruel loss of innocent lives this week – and the understandable yet tragic response by increasingly angry groups. What do these events say about the health of our society?
Another sad point for me is what I hear – or don’t hear – in the political rhetoric of this election season. One of the candidates seems to suggest that the refugees fleeing their homeland just hop on planes and land on our doorstops without any vetting at all. Having followed many stories from Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN), and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), I know that the vetting for any refugee wanting asylum in the US is incredibly rigorous and can take 2-4 years. I think you all know that and I have certainly shared the intricacy of the process before. But, my big question is: why is there no one in the media telling that story? A good friend suggested that it’s because people aren’t really interested; they only want the sound bites and the sensational. Explanations are just not news-worthy. I hope she’s wrong but I am not optimistic.
This has been a big week in refugee advocacy. Last week on September 14, EMM sponsored a webcast, “One United People: A Dialogue on Refugee Resettlement and Faithful Welcome.” This event was planned as a preparation for two major events: on Monday, September 19, the United Nations General Assembly held its first-ever heads-of-state and government meeting “to address the large movements of refugees and migrants aimed at unifying countries behind a more human and coordinated approach” (Episcopal News Service), and on Tuesday, September 20th, President Obama hosted the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees. Participating with our President were co-hosts from Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico and Sweden. This Summit appealed to governments for increased commitments to resettle refugees.
The Episcopal News Service reported: “Of the 21.3 million refugees in the world today, 1 percent might be resettled. It’s a lottery with dismal odds.” How do we respond to that number? To grasp the significance, we must remember that “refugee” has a specific definition and is different than “migrant” or “asylum seeker.” A refugee is one who is fleeing their homeland because it is no longer safe to live there. The government cannot protect this individual, family or people group from oppressions, persecution and violence. We’re not speaking of someone who merely thinks that the American Dream sounds like a nice idea. One of the panelists, Abdul Saboor, on the EMM webcast said: “No one wants to leave home; the only reason people leave is if their home is on fire!”
You can find the video of the webcast at the following link. Even though the site reads as though the program hasn’t begun yet, just enter your contact information and you’ll receive the video. The download includes the program and the bios of each panelist – http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/webinar-registration
The Episcopal News Service (ENS) article about these events reported that “the summit comes not only at a time of record numbers of refugees, but also at a time of increased discrimination and violence against immigrants and migrants. The refugee crisis has fueled nationalist movements across Europe, where fear of terrorism and xenophobia have gripped societies and have led governments to take restrictive measures. The same is true in part of the United States where states have introduced legislation either to ban refugees from their states or to weaken the U.S. government’s resettlement program.” The bombing in New York last weekend and other events of this week have understandably fueled the fear felt by opponents of refugee resettlement. But we mustn’t let fear blind us to our calling as followers of Jesus.
On Wednesday, Texas threatened to pull out of the Federal refugee resettlement program from fear of terrorism. In response to this news, the Rev. Canon Mark Stevenson, Director of EMM, made the following statement:
“Through the history of the United States, refugees have enriched our communities as creators, business owners, students, and friends. Our nation, and indeed our Church, has been enhanced by contributions from refugees that have sought safety and opportunity in this land. We know this to be true from decades of ministry walking with refugees and migrants.
I am deeply saddened by the violent acts in New Jersey, New York, and Minnesota. I am saddened that entire communities of refugees are being blamed for the actions of a few misguided individuals – for as Americans, as Episcopalians, and as Christians, we are called to a higher moral ground than this. And, I am also disappointed that the governor of the state of Texas has announced this day that he soon will be ending his state’s administration of the federal government’s refugee resettlement program. Fortunately, refugee service providers will work closely with local communities to ensure that a transition to another administrative service does not put refugee families at risk.
Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee resettlement service of The Episcopal Church, along with partners with 30 local communities across the country, serves refugees and migrants with the deep understanding that we are all children of God. This ministry is rooted in Christ’s teaching of love, compassion, and dignity for all people. We are committed to continue this work so that the God-given potential of every human being may thrive.”
“The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Leviticus 19:34
We are called to a higher moral stand than this. If the media won’t share the whole story of refugee resettlement, we must. In case you are new to Nuts and Bolts, here’s the link for the vetting process for resettlement in the United States – https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states
I was not able to watch all of the proceedings in the UN or the President’s Summit but you can find snapshots of these events at the Episcopal Migration Ministries Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/EMMRefugees/
This morning I saw a video on Facebook from a six year old to President Obama that he shared at the Summit. After I wiped a few tears away (ok, I get kind of emotional), I decided I wanted to share it with you because Alex’s words are a reminder to all of us of the attitude we should be demonstrating.
The Presiding Bishop sent a delegation to the UN Summit on September 19th as observers and advocates of these goals:
- Encourage campaigns and strategies to counter xenophobia and discrimination that prioritize building relationships between refugees and migrants and host communities.
- Support resettlement as a critical component of responsibility-sharing and urge member states to increase size of existing resettlement programs or establish resettlement programs if they do not have one. Affirm target to resettle at least 10 percent of the global refugee population annually.
- Support the right to asylum and due process for all people.
- Affirm a whole of society approach that includes civil society and faith-based organizations.
- Affirm the principle of “Leave No One Behind” and preferential treatment for the most vulnerable.
“All 193 U.N. member states reached consensus on the declaration to develop by 2018 a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration; ensure a more equitable sharing of responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees; to commit to protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants regardless of their status; and to commit to launching a global campaign to counter xenophobia,” reported ENS. Lacy Broemel, TEC’s Refugee and Immigration Policy Analyst, added: “The U.N. has invited civil society into this process and as a faith-based organization, we must continue to engage with the global community to ensure the standards included in the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants are actually upheld.”
Here are the commitments made by the member nations:
- Protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This includes the rights of women and girls and promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions.
- Ensure that all refugee and migrant children are receiving education within a few months of arrival.
- Prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence.
- Support those countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants.
- Work towards ending the practice of detaining children for the purposes of determining their migration status.
- Strongly condemn xenophobia against refugees and migrants and support a global campaign to counter it.
- Strengthen the positive contributions made by migrants to economic and social development in their host countries.
- Improve the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance to those countries most affected, including through innovative multilateral financial solutions, with the goal of closing all funding gaps.
- Implement a comprehensive refugee response, based on a new framework that sets out the responsibility of Member States, civil society partners and the UN system, whenever there is a large movement of refugees or a protracted refugee situation.
- Find new homes for all refugees identified by UNHCR as needing resettlement; and expand the opportunities for refugees to relocate to other countries through, for example, labour mobility or education schemes.
- Strengthen the global governance of migration by bringing the International Organization for Migration into the UN system.
You can find the full text of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (September 19, 2016) here – http://www.un.org/pga/70/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2015/08/HLM-on-addressing-large-movements-of-refugees-and-migrants-Draft-Declaration-5-August-2016.pdf
And here’s the link to the full ENS article on the UN Summit – http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/09/19/world-leaders-adopt-a-global-migration-compact/
Friends, as tempting as it might be to want to find a comfy cave and hide from all the pain and suffering we face each day in our lives and in the media, let’s remember Whose we are and rely on the grace and strength of our Lord to speak out for justice and compassion for those who have no voice. Abdul Saboor, at “One United People” exhorted us: “Do not to take your freedom for granted.” Let’s tell the real story of refugee resettlement.
Let us pray –
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer “Prayer for Our Country”
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee