Get Ready for World Refugee Day!

Todd Scribner, Education Outreach Coordinator, Migration & Refugee Services/USCCB

Every year on June 20, the international community acknowledges World Refugee Day. World Refugee Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the conditions confronting the millions of people who have been forced from their homes and countries under threat of persecution and possible death and to acknowledge their humanity.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates the number of forcibly displaced people globally to be at about 65.3 million, including 21.3 refugees. We are today experiencing the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. This is a troubling fact that deserves careful attention and global collaboration.

World Refugee Day provides us all an opportunity to better understand the international circumstances that give rise to displacement, the various solutions that are in place to respond to the problem, and the important role of the U.S. resettlement system in this process. While important, it is not enough for us to merely learn about refugees; we must also act and advocate in solidarity with them

At a recent audience of Catholic and Lutheran pilgrims, Pope Francis emphasized this point, declaring that “you cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian… It is hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who needs my help.”

Spurred by the Holy Father’s words, we turn to numerous refugee crises around the world about which we can both learn and act upon.

The crisis in Syria and Iraq continues to be a pressing concern for the leadership of the Catholic Church as countless millions of men, women, and children continue to be displaced and persecuted because of the ongoing conflict. The forced migration of children and families from the Northern Triangle in Central America is also a troubling phenomenon.

In both situations, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for expanded protections for the most vulnerable populations in these migrant flows. It is imperative that the international community of nations and civil society, including faith communities, work together in both challenging situations, addressing the root causes of forced migration and putting into place solutions that will provide alternatives to forced migration in both regions.

While both Syria and Central America continue to be a source of troubling refugee crises, we should not forget other parts of the world wherein forced migration is also ongoing phenomenon. The conflict in South Sudan has stretched on for over four years, and is Africa’s largest displacement crisis today. As of October 2016, 1.2 million people had fled South Sudan as refugees to neighboring countries. Other sizable populations have fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, and elsewhere in recent years.

We invite you to download, distribute, and use our World Refugee Toolkit, which contains spiritual-related resources, as well as advice on how to use media to draw attention to the problem, and suggested initiatives that you can use in your local community.

Additionally, a series of other resources is available that highlight various aspects of the refugee resettlement program is available. These publications were created to help you better understand issues related to refugees and other forms of forced migration.

Finally, in addition to learning about these issues, it is important that we act. One way that you can do this is by signing up for the Justice for Immigrants campaign. By doing so, you will receive information about new resources as they become available alongside time sensitive action alerts. By engaging these alerts, you will be in a position to help shape public policy on migration related issues and to help ensure that the human dignity of migrants is respected in the law and in our communities.

Todd Scribner is the Education Outreach Coordinator for Migration & Refugee Services at the USCCB. 

Providing Welcome and Creating Hope for Child Migrants

©istockphoto.com/Joel Carillet

©istockphoto.com/Joel Carillet

On this “World Day of Migrants and Refugees,” we are called by the Holy Father to draw attention to child migrants, who “in a threefold way are defenceless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves.”

Inspired by the journey of the Holy Family, which fled the violence of King Herod as many refugees flee violence today, the vision of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is “creating a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome, and belonging.” MRS serves as a leader in the protection of migrant and refugee children providing them foster care and family reunification services through culturally-appropriate programs nationwide since 1980.

Providing refuge and hope to migrant and refugee children fleeing for their lives is crucial at this time where we are witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes– nearly 34,000 people every day.

As a member of an inter-faith, interagency delegation to Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan in April of 2016 I visited informal settlements of Syrian refugees. One of the dwellings I visited in Lebanon was an abandoned building occupied by 180 Syrian refugee families, totaling 1,000 people.  Approximately half were children.  The building bordered a busy road, next to which children played, barefoot, on a concrete courtyard.  The floor of one of the common rooms, a thruway to other rooms, was covered with about one inch of water, including raw sewage.

When we asked a group of about 25 children, most under 13 years old, who attended school, two raised their hands. The rest had to work to support their families.  For many migrant and refugee families, child labor is necessary for economic survival, particularly in countries where adult refugees are not allowed to work legally, such is the case in Lebanon, where refugees are at risk of detention and deportation to Syria if they are caught working.  Children can more easily evade labor and migration enforcement than adults.   The younger and more vulnerable a child is, the more earning potential they have as beggars, and the more at risk they are to exploitation and human trafficking.

Identifying children in need of protection is a challenge in many regions of the world where refugees reside. The result is that children who are in need of protection are not proactively identified, resulting in harm, sexual assault or rape, recruitment into criminal organizations, and in the worst cases, death. Children who are unable to access protection may take upon themselves pursuit of protective measures and migrate to safety themselves in what is often a perilous journey with uncertain consequences and results.

For children who are able to access protection, that is just the beginning. The path to a durable solution is a narrow, winding road. Durable solutions for unaccompanied children include integration into countries of first asylum, repatriation to their country of origin, or resettlement. Integration and repatriation are, in most cases, not realistic options, and although unaccompanied refugee minors make up about 3-4 percent of the world’s refugees only less than half of one percent are resettled.

For a small number of children, MRS makes that hope a reality, providing durable solutions for unaccompanied children through refugee resettlement, reunification with families, and placements in foster care programs.  In 2016, MRS resettled 10,000 refugee children who arrived with family members, reunified with families 2,000 migrant children who arrived to the United States alone, and for another 500 unaccompanied children secured safe housing in a variety of settings, from small-scale shelters or group homes to foster care families.  Embodying the MRS vision, a MRS foster parent to six unaccompanied children (from Nepal, Liberia, Honduras, the Congo, and Eritrea) said, “We didn’t just welcome them into our house, we welcomed (them) into our family.”

I’m concluding with a plea from the Holy Father, “The Church too needs you and supports you in the generous service you offer. Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

Click here for information on how to help refugee and migrant children.

kristyn-professional_sept-2014Kristyn Peck is Associate Director of Children’s Services, Migration and Refugee Services, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Become an ally for our immigrant brothers and sisters

national-migration-weekAs we celebrate National Migration Week from Jan. 8-14, let us bring to the forefront the most pressing issues immigrants face and support them in their efforts to overcome those challenges.

The theme for this year is “Creating a Culture of Encounter,” based on an appeal by Pope Francis which calls us to “look beyond our needs and wants to those of others around us.”  Justice for Immigrants’ toolkit features many ways to support migrants, including prayer cards and event ideas.

Here are a few more tips to continue supporting immigrants all year long.

One of the best ways a community member can help their immigrant neighbors is to partner with a local immigration services program. There are many non-profit legal service providers that are willing to give workshops and informational sessions, but often lack the space or volunteers to do so. Community partners can help by offering available meeting space, time to volunteer, or assistance with outreach. To find a local immigration service provider, visit https://cliniclegal.org/directory.  Paola Marquez, CLINIC’s Legalization Outreach Manager, focuses on building strong relationships between legal service providers and the communities they serve and can help you brainstorm new ways to be an ally. For more ideas on how you can help immigrants have access to legal services, you can reach out to her.

Another way to help is to ensure that your community is a welcoming one. CLINIC offers a number of resources on Catholic social teachings and the ties between Catholic values and immigration.  For example, CLINIC recently created a free resource inspired by Las Posadas Navideñas for communities to use during the holiday season. A celebration around Las Posadas provides an excellent opportunity for dialogue, but you don’t have to wait until next Christmas to hold such an event.  Consider using any of CLINIC’s resources on Catholic social teaching to inspire community-building events: https://cliniclegal.org/cst.

We should also seek to raise awareness about immigration issues. Consider hosting a movie screening or inviting a prominent lecturer on immigration to come speak at your next event. Plan or participate in a vigil for immigrants being held in detention.  Reach out to both your Catholic Conference and local community leaders to see if you can participate in or host an event.  Above all, do not be afraid to engage in a constructive dialogue with people who may disagree with you- CLINIC has you covered.

From an advocacy perspective, it is vital that we help immigrants become aware of their legal rights. Many immigrants are not aware that although they may be undocumented, they still have civil rights that are protected by federal and state laws. Share CLINIC’s Know Your Rights guides for students and workers with parishioners and neighbors. These resources also provide ways immigrants can report incidents they encountered at school and work.

Bolster this work by becoming an advocate for positive immigration policies. The lack of immigration reform at the federal level has encouraged state and local leaders to legislate their own solutions to what they see as a broken system. Many states legislative sessions will begin this January and, due to the current national debate regarding immigration, we anticipate that there will be an increased number of legislation attempting to limit immigrants’ ability to fully integrate. CLINIC has prepared a guide to help you follow your state’s legislative process and offer ways you can speak up for immigrants and urge local leaders to implement positive policies. Christy Williams, CLINIC’s Advocacy Attorney, supported several state Catholic conferences and CLINIC affiliates through legal analysis and suggested talking points to address how these issues impact immigrants and the programs that serve them during the 2016 state legislative session. In addition to online resources, you can contact her for direct support to help you address immigration-related legislation in your state.

Please visit CLINIC’s website for more resources to help you understand the challenges immigrants face. Be sure to sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on pressing immigration issues and new ways to help.

 paola-marquez-croppedPaola Marquez is the Outreach Manager for CLINIC’s Legalization section. In addition to conducting outreach to parishes, Catholic schools, and immigrant communities, she also manages the Southeast Fellows Project. She can be reached via e-mail at pmarquez@cliniclegal.org.

 christy-williamsChristy Williams is an Advocacy Attorney at CLINIC who leads the State and Local Immigration Project. Christy monitors legislation in all 50 states that impact immigrants and provides advocacy support to state Catholic Conferences, Diocesan advocates and CLINIC affiliates in responding to these issues. She can be reached via e-mail at cwilliams@cliniclegal.org.

How can you help stop human trafficking? Turn on the Light!

crs_light_candle_studio_300dpiHuman trafficking is modern-day slavery. With 21 million victims worldwide, there are more slaves today than at any time in history.

Since human trafficking is a prevalent issue throughout the world, January has become Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It is during this month that Catholics Confront Global Poverty (CCGP), a partnership between USCCB and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), along with CRS Ethical Trade, have launched a campaign to bring light to this serious issue. Together we are telling everyone to “Turn On the Light” to human trafficking, so that the victims are no longer living in the shadows and can finally get the help that they need.

There are two simple ways you can help to stop human trafficking.

First, use your voice to let Congress know that it is important to you that human trafficking is stopped. There is an active action alert on the CCGP website ready for your participation. You can easily send an email to your members of Congress asking them to support much-needed legislation that would dissuade businesses and employers from creating environments in which human trafficking is encouraged or can be sustained.

Second, you can make a difference and support the victims of human trafficking by buying a fair trade candle from Prosperity Candle. These candles are handmade by women refugees trying to rebuild their lives in the United States. With every purchase a donation is made to support CRS programs, such as our anti-human trafficking projects, and you are supporting the creation of wages for refugee women.

Pope Francis said “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.” Therefore, he has “call[ed] on all people of goodwill to take action against human trafficking and new forms of slavery.”

This year we can work together to answer Pope Francis’ call and make a difference for the millions of people who are living as slaves around the globe.

With every email to a member of Congress and every candle sold, there is another flash of hope for the victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a serious issue and it is one that I have been passionate about ending since I first got a good look at its realities in college when I was working with CRS. I became aware of the situations society has created which allow modern day slavery to persist, and I knew I wanted to continue using my skills to put an end to it. CRS provides many great programs and is constantly working to create an atmosphere in which people can become educated and find ways to lend a hand. That is what we are doing through CCGP, and it is your help that is crucial to ending this plague on humanity.

Please join CCGP and CRS Ethical Trade and the thousands of people who have already taken action in this fight to end this modern-day slavery. You can get more information from our website on how you can help in this much needed effort.

clare-p-crsClare Pressimone is the Grassroots Advisor in the Advocacy Department of Catholic Relief Services. 


Going Deeper

Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB has developed a National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month toolkit, which features facts about human trafficking, ways to raise awareness about the issue, and a prayer card.

Bishop Blaire of Stockton Issues Strong Statement on Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

The journey of life is difficult at this time for Hispanics in the United States.  Many have friends and family members who are without papers; many are without papers themselves; children in school are being bullied; and young immigrants who signed up for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are anxious that they might lose their opportunity to work and their protection from deportation; racism has raised its ugly head in many communities; and so many of our neighborhoods and homes are plagued with violence. Many who have jobs often find themselves having to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet.

To all of you this day I remind you that OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE COMES TO MEET YOU TO LEAD YOU TO JESUS.  She says to each of you what she said to St. Juan Diego: “Do not be disturbed in your heart; do not be afraid.  Am I not with you, I who am your mother?” We need to hear these words of comfort and strength when there is so much hostility in the public conversation about immigration and immigrants.

I wish to say loudly and clearly to all of you that as your bishop I am with you.  You are the Church.  I will walk with you no matter how hard it gets. Please God, things will go better than our worst fears about what might happen.  Regardless, the Church is with you.  I am here to accompany you.  I also wish to announce to our immigrants, to our refugees, to our migrants, from wherever you come, that we will do everything we can to help you through our Catholic Charities and the community organizations of which we are a part. As Catholics we embrace our American traditions of welcome, of unity in diversity, and our care for all.

I also wish to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to our Jewish elder brothers and sisters, and to all our inter-faith friends that the hate which destroys the unity and solidarity of the human family cannot be tolerated in any way. The way of God is the way of love.

As you know so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East have been slaughtered by ISIS or lost their homes in war torn areas and have suffered as refugees from their ancient lands.  I ask you to join with our Holy Father Pope Francis, in doing whatever you can in any way to support the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Christian and Muslim refugees at this time, and to bring calm to their homelands.

The causes of war and cruelty cannot be ignored.  The injustices that give rise to radical evils must be alleviated. The forces of evil must be stopped. Ultimately, evil will only be overcome by good, by the hard work of good people working together to bring about peace.  And there will be no peace if there is no justice which respects the dignity and worth of every human being.  As long as the gods of money and power and unrestrained impulses found in the idols of greed and corruption rule on the face of the earth there will be no lasting peace.  Sad to say, an even greater threat to peace that looms over our heads would be the unrestrained advance in nuclear weapons which could destroy all creation.

I sincerely believe that unless God is accepted as sovereign Lord over the earth and over our lives, communities will continue to deteriorate, the earth will be devastated, and family coherence will be diminished.  Your devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe keeps us close to her as our Mother.  She leads us to Christ Who is the all just One; the all merciful One; the Hope for the world when all seems hopeless.

The world does not need any more walls.  It needs bridges of compassion and mutual understanding.  Yes, proper respect for borders or boundaries, but not barriers of hostility and division.  Let there be peace at our borders.

The world cannot continue to endure more violence.  It needs restraint, words of peace and perseverance in the hard efforts to create the just structures that are the foundation for peace.  In our community the answer to gang violence is good education and decent jobs.

The world must not tolerate racism.   It needs to honor the diversity of God’s human family by building a unity which embraces and respects all races on the face of the earth.  Unity in diversity!

bishop-blaire-5x7Today we venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe who comes to meet us as our mother.  Nuestra Señora will show us the way to peace and goodness and justice.  Mary is the mother of all peoples.  She will give us the courage not to be afraid.  She will lead us to Jesus, the Lord of peace and justice.   Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe!  Viva Cristo Rey!

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


 

Welcome Migrants and Refugees This Advent

“Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you.” Rom. 15:7.
Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Forced migration is a stark reality facing millions. With more displaced persons than ever before, the need for countries and communities to offer protection, understanding, and welcome is great. In the midst of this global crisis and as the year comes to an end, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on our country’s record of welcoming migrants and refugees.

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the United States admitted nearly 85,000 refugees, including 12,000 Syrians. Through partnership with states and nongovernmental organizations, the United States has been able to provide crucial services to these resettled refugees in order to help them achieve self-sufficiency.  While the United States made some welcome progress during the past fiscal year in terms of creating and expanding programs to process Central American refugees, the current system has failed to address the needs of many individuals and families with valid protection concerns. This is evidenced by the fact that during FY 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended over 59,000 unaccompanied children and more than 77,000 family members at the U.S./Mexico border. Many of these families and children were fleeing violence and lack of state protection in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Our treatment of these groups is an issue which has divided many in our country, including our leaders and lawmakers. Over the past year, we have witnessed the unfortunate toll fear can take on our country, causing some to view vulnerable migrants and refugees unfavorably. In light of this rhetoric, it is more important than ever that we as Catholics heed Pope Francis’s call: “Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

The holiday season can be a great opportunity to welcome migrants and refugees in your community and educate your parish on the plights faced by many of these individuals.

How can you help create a community of welcome?  You can consider hosting a solidarity event. These events are a way to make migrants and refugees in your community feel supported. They can also be a way to further educate your fellow parishioners and community members about these issues. In addition, you can host a multicultural potluck event as a fun way to promote cultural awareness and foster a community of welcome.

How can you help educate your fellow parishioners on this issue?  Start a dialogue with your community around Catholic social teaching on migration. Share a copy of and discuss the pastoral letter Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. You can also share a link to the Justice for Immigrants (JFI) website with members of your community so they can learn more about JFI’s work to support refugees and immigrants.

Through these actions, we can engage with and show support for our migrant and refugee neighbors. Learn about other ways to welcome these individuals here.

Melissa Hastings is policy advisor for Migration and Refugee Services, USCCB.


Going Deeper
Get ready to celebrate National Migration Week on January 8-14, 2017.  This year’s theme is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” During the week, you can reflect with others on the circumstances confronting refugees and immigrants and our Catholic call to encounter and welcome.

For more information on intercultural dialogue, visit USCCB’s Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church’s resources on intercultural competencies.

In Solidarity With Syria

prayerenglishThe picture of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year old boy, who washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach last year after drowning along with eleven others including his mother and brother as they tried to escape war-torn Syria, alerted the world to the plight of Syrian refugees. Pope Francis, in an effort to stem this humanitarian crisis, called on all Catholics to “express the Gospel in concrete terms” and assist the millions of refugees risking death to migrate from Syria. “In front of the tragedy of the tens of thousands of refugees escaping death by war or hunger, on the path towards the hope of life, the Gospel calls us, asks us to be ‘neighbors’ of the smallest and most abandoned.”

The University of Scranton responded to this call from the Holy Father last year by launching In Solidarity With Syria, a coordinated effort involving university administrators, faculty, staff, alumni, and students to aid those most affected by the current immigration crisis through education and advocacy. Since then, I have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of concern from the students, faculty, and staff for refugees coming to Scranton.

We began last September with an interreligious prayer vigil during which the community was invited to pray in solidarity with our sisters and brothers displaced from their homes in Syria. One who spoke that night was a student originally from Hebron. He spoke of his Muslim faith being honored and respected at a Catholic university. “Together… we can fight the darkness and violence. And together we will make a better future for our families and children.”

Other events followed from that evening of prayer: students wrote to elected officials, attended lectures given by authors on the topic, heard first-hand experiences from advocates working directly with refugees, watched documentaries together, participated in discussions on the topic, and greeted refugees arriving in the Scranton area. We held several film series, took part in webinars, facilitated a refugee simulation, hosted round-table discussions, and continued to greet more families arriving at the Scranton airport. Our final event last year took place at a local restaurant where Syrian refugee women served as guest chefs, sharing their cuisine and cultural traditions. This year, we are continuing the conversation with the community, beginning with David Miliband, President and CEO of International Rescue Committee and former UK Foreign Secretary on the Global Refugee Crisis, who presented new insights to our campus about how we can help refugees together.

What can you do? Lots.

First, foremost, and imperatively, educate your community about what it means to be a refugee living in the United States.

Many think there’s no system in place to oversee refugees seeking entrance into the country. In reality, it takes a minimum of 18 to 24 months for a person to achieve refugee status. The vetting process involves a number of governmental and non-governmental partners both overseas and in the United States. Their need is dire and immediate, yet many live in refugee camps for years awaiting the chance to legally enter our country. A local Scranton refugee from Bhutan who now works with Catholic Social Services spent the first 18 years of his life in a refugee camp. It’s easier for someone to enter on a tourist, work, or student visa than it is to become a refugee in our country.

Another concern many people have is security. Contrary to pronouncements by leaders in our government and those seeking political office, refugees entering the U.S. are not a threat to American communities. Since January 2010, nearly 3,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State, none has been arrested or removed on terrorism charges. And people seeking to enter as refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They have to prove they are facing persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Seeking job opportunities is not a qualification for refugee status.

How can you get started?

Form a committee to begin outreach to your community and then plan educational programs that will make an impact. But you don’t have to start from scratch. There are resources out there. Check out the events and programs facilitated at The University of Scranton since September 2015 that are listed on our In Solidarity With Syria web page. Other resources include:

You can also plan a Refugee Simulation and invite community members to participate. The simulation was created by Jesuit Refugee Services.

Educational programs, advocacy opportunities, and prayer activities are concrete, tangible ways to not only express the Gospel, but also to live the Gospel – to bring Christ’s message of love, hope, and justice to those seeking sanctuary here with us.

Don’t forget about five-year-old Omran Daqneesh sitting in the back of an ambulance covered in blood and debris after surviving an airstrike this past August in his native Aleppo. Once again, a picture of a small boy awakened the world to the plight of those living in Syria just as that photo of Aylan did last year.

For Omran there is hope – he is still alive. But he needs our help. This call to help is quite challenging in light of the fear that many have, given the state of the world and the words we hear from today’s political aspirants and news media agents.

As people of faith, we cannot turn our backs on our sisters and brothers at risk of life or liberty. Together we can build communities that move beyond those fears in order to care for the refugee in our midst and respect the smallest and most abandoned of our neighbors.

headshot_helen-wolfHelen M. Wolf, Ph.D. is Executive Director, Office of Campus Ministries at The University of Scranton.


Going Deeper

Did you know that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is active in assisting those who have fled their countries, through its Migration and Refugee Services (MRS)?  MRS provides processing and resettlement services, assists unaccompanied children, leads efforts to end human trafficking, and engages in public policy advocacy. Find out more about how the U.S. Catholic bishops are urging Catholics to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.