World Refugee Day highlights continuing crisis

June 9, 2003

In proclaiming June 20 as World Refugee Day, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Rudd Lubbers is urging faith-based agencies--as well as human rights organizations--to acknowledge the ongoing crisis of refugees and lift up the courage and contributions of refugees to countries giving them safety and a chance to begin their lives anew.

Richard Parkins, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), is encouraging all of its 28 affiliate offices to join with local groups in giving meaning to this day. As a possible theme for observances, Parkins called attention to the recent annual report of the US Committee for Refugees citing the increase in the worldwide refugee population from 15 to 19 million persons. Churches are urged to advocate for a more generous admissions policy by the US Government, an advocacy that has been the longstanding position of the Episcopal Church.

Parkins commented that 'the decline in US admissions since September 11, 2001 reflects a significant retreat by the US Government from this nation's historic commitment to being generous in its willingness to protect persecuted persons.' He pointed out that the fact that the US expects to admit no more than 25,000 refugees this year--a repeat of last year's low number of refugee arrivals--contrasts sharply with the admission level of 132,000 just 10 years ago.

'There has been a steady decline in US admissions for the past decade,' he said, but after the 9-11 terrorist attacks 'the decline has become so dramatic as to question whether the US intends to be a leader in responding to the humanitarian crisis of millions of forcibly uprooted persons.'

A welcoming nation?

Speaking informally a few weeks ago with a group of executives from national resettlement agencies--including Episcopal Migration Ministries--Lubbers cited the low resettlement numbers for the US as a factor that is contributing to a worsening of the international refugee crisis. The High Commissioner identified the failure of refugees to move from squalid camps overseas as a factor contributing to the frustration, desperation, and hopelessness that abets the recruitment of child combatants and exacerbates forces that cause instability and civil conflict.

Countries that accept fleeing neighbors for temporary sanctuary are less hospitable if refugees do not move toward resettlement and remain in the misery of overcrowded refugee camps. 'Closing our doors to refugees not only denies rescue to the world's most vulnerable persons but adds to influences that destabilize regions and foment unrest and violence,' the commissioner said.

In keeping with the spirit of being a welcoming nation, Parkins called attention to the recent resolution of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church opposing both the abuses of immigrants and asylum seekers and any further expansion of the Patriot Act which has given cover to the government's detention of immigrants without regard to fair and humane treatment .

'More recently, an internal review of the government's treatment of immigrants conducted by the Justice Department itself underscores what civil and immigrant rights groups have been saying for the past 18 months--that gross violations of the rights of immigrants are occurring in the name of security,' Parkins said. 'Yet the Administration remains adamant about the appropriateness of its actions in spite of the findings of an official Government audit. Our advocacy against such practices must be pursued with equal resolve.'

Parkins said that World Refugee Day is 'an occasion for extolling the benefit of refugees to our communities as well as an opportunity to remind ourselves of what we lose if we do not uphold our tradition of being a welcoming nation. That tradition of hospitality can stand side by side with our desire and need to be secure.'