Who is a refugee in our world today? How does one receive “refugee protection” and is this determination fair and just? On World Refugee Day 2012, June 20, we remember those who have fled persecution because of their ethnicity or country of origin, religion or political views.
These atrocities are serious and asylum an appropriate response. The UNHCR reports that 800,000 people became refugees in 2011, while a total of 4.3 million people became newly displaced (mostly hosted in Africa and the Middle East).
The worldwide standard for refugee status described above was created in 1951 in response to the Holocaust (UN Geneva Convention on Refugees).
How each country applies this convention, now 62 years later, is wrought with strict legal process, historical precedents and unfair political influence. With current realities of what causes forced migration so very different from that of the post-World War II world, the hoop to jump through to become a refugee has become smaller and more difficult than ever to pass. The natural disasters, conflict and chronic violence that are wracking regions of the world with increased frequency and intensity are usually not grounds for gaining refugee status and resettlement.
Thus, on this day I am also remembering those seeking asylum and sanctuary who have been denied a fresh start because of the limitations of national and global policies. If an Afghan family fleeing repeated U.S. drone attacks purportedly targeting terrorists, a farmer from Mali who has lost his livelihood because of cyclical drought and famine, and a woman from Honduras suffering from the violence of drug cartels cannot receive official global protection and support after crossing an international boundary, then who is there for them?
The legal and political definition is simply too narrow.
There is a higher moral calling of taking care of those who need refuge. People of faith have the opportunity in every corner of this country to open their hearts and sanctuaries to those needing unofficial or unrecognized asylum—with respite, peace, support and advocacy efforts. We have Jesus’ teaching, among others, from the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) as our “Christian Convention on Refugees of 2012” mandating us to bless the poor, the hungry, those who weep and who are hated by others.
The current political climate among the richer countries of the world is to remove outsiders and guard borders against anyone who flees in our direction. From the Bible’s many references to taking care of the stranger or alien, it appears to have always been a risky and controversial field of work. And we can rise to the occasion.
Maryada Vallet works with No More Deaths, a humanitarian initiative on the U.S.-Mexico border, which promotes faith-based principles for immigration reform.
World Refugee Day illustration, ajfi / Shutterstock.com