From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Statement on the first International Refugee Day (June20)
Wed, 20 Jun 2001 11:40:08 -0400 (EDT)
Richard Parkins, executive director of Episcopal Migrations Ministries, released
the following statement on the first International Refugee Day (June20):
As the world refugee population reaches the staggering and tragic number of
14.5 million, the challenge to all of us on this day committed to remembering the
plight of refugees and their courage in seeking protection from persecution is
enormous. Behind these daunting statistics are the lives of individuals, each of
whom has a story of devastation to tell. As people of faith, we must never
forget that suffering is personal and so is redemption. As we enter into the
suffering of those whose lives have been brutally disrupted, let us also commit
ourselves to creating possibilities of hope for these sisters and brothers.
On this special day, we are reminded that rescuing some number of refugees
from a protracted stay in a camp is still our business. As this church through
Episcopal Migration Ministries and the many dioceses and parishes that partner
with us sponsor around 3000 refugees every year, we are not only making
resurrection happen for those whom we serve but also sending a message of hope to
refugees everywhere. Regrettably, far too many refugees remain in limbo,
separated from family and friends, awaiting the chance for repatriation or
resettlement. The challenge is increasing possibilities worldwide for resettling
a larger portion of the world refugee population or creating conditions for their
safe repatriation. Reversing the trend toward lower admissions in the United
States would be an important place to begin. The capacity and spirit for being
more generous in receiving desperate newcomers is there.
The past year has seen a marked decline in contributions to the work of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The result is a drastic
reduction in the resources needed to protect refugees from hunger and violence
and to facilitate either their repatriation or resettlement. While the United
States has been a strong contributor to the UNHCR, other parts of the Western
world have curtailed support for the humanitarian assistance which the UNHCR
provides. If this trend continues, more refugees will find their so called
flight to safety one of ongoing despair.
Over the past five years, we have experienced a shocking increase in the
number of persons held in detention because they were so audacious as to seek
freedom and justice on our shores. With the passage of immigration control
legislation in 1996, the US adopted some of the most restrictive asylum policies
of any Western nation. The record is replete with stories about persons who have
fled persecution, only to have their pleas for safety greeted by a period of
incarceration - sometimes of several months and even years. Surely the quest for
freedom and justice in a land which has historically proclaimed a commitment to
both should not be prefaced by a prison stint. This year holds forth the
possibility of legislation which will ameliorate some of the more egregious
provisions of the 1996 law. We can all voice support for this urgently needed
Invariably we encounter reminders that root causes need to be addressed so
that an escalation of the worldwide refugee population will not continue. The
leadership role of our Church in seeking debt forgiveness and in providing
resources to so many parts of the Anglican Communion as churches around the world
attempt to alleviate suffering and build systems that bring relief and stability
to impoverished brothers and sisters are examples of where avenues of hope have
been opened up.
World Refugee Day is an occasion to commit ourselves to some form of
engagement with the world refugee crisis. Service and advocacy opportunities
abound. This is also a good time to be reminded of the courage of refugees,
their extraordinary contributions to our nation, and our individual and
collective efforts to bring a modicum of hope to a part of the world which has
not enjoyed the abundance and safety which for so many is a given.
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