“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt,” (Exodus 23:9).
“Migrants seeking a better life in other countries must not be viewed with suspicion but rather defended and protected, no matter their status,” Pope Francis.
“Freedom of mobility is a human right. Migrants have their rights; they do not lose them when cross a border,” (Article 13 Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
These past few weeks, we have been overwhelmed by the media showing us multiple disturbing pictures of families divided, parents deported, children left behind, immigrant toddlers ordered to appear in court alone, fathers heartbroken and mothers in tears. In the midst of those images we cannot ignore the psychological trauma endured by these families fleeing violence in their countries and enduring the arduous journey with smugglers and criminals preying on them as these families to try to survive together.
Last year, a Syrian-American medical organization announced that the severity of PTSD suffered by migrant Syrian children surpassed the clinical definition and should be renamed “human devastation syndrome.” Children crossing our borders and separated from their families may also be suffering this type of PTSD.
An annual report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released this past week estimates that there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. This includes individuals who are fleeing violence, persecution, conflict, and now climate change. The global number of refugees grew by a record 2.9 million in 2017.
However, we cannot ignore that those who cross borders bring both challenges and opportunities for their new host countries.
“The cliché that international migration is associated with economic ‘burden’ can be dispelled,” wrote the scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Clermont-Auvergne and Paris-Nanterre University. The research analyzed data from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The research found that asylum seekers contributed most to a country’s gross domestic product after three to seven years in the country. They also lowered unemployment rates and had a near-zero impact on public finances.
Refugees’ Impact on the US
“The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, A Return to First Principles: How Refugees Help to Define, Strengthen, and Revitalize the United States” was released June 20, 2018, the 18th anniversary of World Refugee Day.
The report looked at the 1.1 million refugees who arrived in the U.S. between 1987 and 2016 via the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Most of the refugees considered in the report moved quickly to self-sufficiency through gainful employment, English proficiency, and the attainment of college degrees and/or vocational training. The report stated that USRAP “has saved countless lives, put millions of impoverished persons on a path to work, self-sufficiency, and integration, and advanced U.S. standing in the world.”
It described some of their achievements and contributions, including:
- 68 percent participate in the labor force (compared to 63 percent of the overall U.S. population);
- 67 percent have naturalized;
- 40 percent are married to U.S. citizens;
- 10 percent are self-employed and have created jobs;
- They achieved a median household income of $43,000.
The report was conceived and commissioned by Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Migration and Refugee Services. It was released at a symposium hosted by the Georgetown University Human Rights Institute in Washington, D.C. To read the full report, click here.
Hostility Fuels the Migrant Crisis in the US
Anti-migrant attitudes have little to do with migrants themselves. The crisis is rooted in the factors of: trust, social disengagement, and political disaffection. To solve any crisis, a good place to start is to consider the factors in the crisis and experience those factors to come to understanding of the others’ reality. An excellent example of trying to understand and diffuse hostility occurred last week in the Catholic community of St. Ignatius, a Jesuit Parish in Baltimore, that organized a refugee camp simulation.
Speechless. Devastated. Moved. These were some of the feelings parishioners expressed after leaving Camp Peace, the Refugee Camp Simulation hosted by the Immigration Subcommittee on June 24. About 60 individuals and families participated. It included stations of the various aspects of life in a refugee camp: entry process, shelter, water, food, health services, and education. There was also a Detention Center Station, to which parishioners were diverted with little explanation which many refugees experience when they arrive in a new country and on a detention camp.
22.5 Million Refugees Live in Refugee Camps Around the World
Over 65 million people in the world are currently displaced, and 22.5 million of these are refugees in other countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. While some are relocated to new countries such as the United States, many must wait in various countries for long periods of time, expanding over decades and sometimes years, as I myself saw in Lebanon and Jordan.
Instead of the recommended 37 sq. ft. of space per person when camps become crowed, families of 4 sometimes live in spaces as cramped as 80 sq. ft. total. This means that they generally sleep sitting up, as there is not enough space for all family members to lie down on the blankets that are provided. Most camps are unable to provide the necessary 20 liters (5 gallons) of water per individual per day and refugees must carry this water themselves from the source to their dwellings in large buckets. These 5 gallons are used for consumption, cooking, cleaning and hygiene. By comparison, the average American uses approximately 300 gallons of water per day.
The migration of peoples is a reality that continues to grow and the challenges of migration are increasing. In order to respond to this globalization and to the magnitude of this phenomenon, it is essential to plan responses that promote and show respect, charity, hospitality and generosity towards the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.
We must do more for migrants
“We are encouraged by the national outcry railing against the cruel splintering of families at the border. The president recently ended the practice, but there is no system or even governmental will to reunite these traumatized families. Furthermore, the dehumanization of people who are seeking safety continues. Our country has a long history of vicious disregard for family bonds–let us not be seduced by a ‘lesser evil,’ a ‘solution’ that is better than what was happening but that remains immoral. Let us demand more; we have an opportunity to move from a callous history of colonialism and individualism to a new vision of whom we can be as a country. Making room for, and welcoming with grace, those who need a safe place may impact our comfortable spaces, but it is what we must do, what we are called to do, not just as Christians, but simply as human beings,” (“Philadelphia Inquirer editor” – Sunday July 1, 2018).
We can DO more day by day
- Be choosing 2 or 3 credible sources to follow regularly to deepen your understanding of the changing realities of migrants and refugees;
- By raising awareness of refugee and migrant realities both in the US and the world and sharing those through your use of social media;
- By calling legislators’ offices and voicing your support for policies that change the situation of migrants and refugees in a positive way;
- By taking action to defend the rights of refugees when we see those rights violated e.g. separating families;
- By using a model like the Jesuit Catholic community in Baltimore to educate persons into the realities of migrants and refugees;
By joining in prayer as we contemplate the call of Jesus today to welcome the foreigner, “for just as you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for Me,” (Matthew 25: 40).