— Mark Koenig

 

World Refugee Day is June 20th

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Six months in and 2020 has been a challenging year: ongoing humanitarian crises, natural disasters, mass civil unrest, widespread economic downturn, and a global pandemic—all of which are exacerbating the worst refugee crisis in recorded history.

 

There are over 70 million displaced people in the world, of which 26 million are refugees, half of whom are children. For instance, Central American asylum seekers are fleeing their communities due to violence, desperation, and persecution, and face incredible challenges in hopes of seeking protection. At the end of their perilous journey, they are threatened with the cruel choice of family separation or incarceration, many illegally turned away or criminalized for seeking protection in the US. Syrians, Afghans, and South Sudanese make up the largest refugee populations, many now stuck more than a decade in some sort of “in-between” reality—not sent home but not invited to put down roots and make a new home in their country of refuge.

 

Covid-19 poses additional risks to the health, economic survival, physical safety and well-being of people who migrate, especially refugees living in the most vulnerable of settings. Limited space means social distancing can be difficult, if not impossible, for people in migrant shelters, refugee camps, immigration detention, or urban slums and informal settlements. In addition, limited to no access to essential hygiene supplies (like soap and water or hand sanitizer) increases the risk of contracting Covid-19 by refugees in these most vulnerable situations. Information about how to prevent its spread is not consistently available in languages spoken by refugees; nor is it easily accessible by those who are unable to read and write. Those facing local hostility, as well as those with serious pre-existing health conditions, may experience insufficient access to testing and treatment.

 

Despite these obvious threats, refugees in the US are serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. They are often employed in industries considered essential services and face health risks simply by reporting for work, particularly if workplace safeguards (e.g., personal protective equipment) are not in place. They are doctors, nurses, and medical personnel working in hospitals, clinics and elder care facilities. They work in vital supply chains, keeping grocery store shelves stocked. They work in factories and plants making sure we have what we need to stay healthy and beat the pandemic. In fact, they start working as soon as possible, pay taxes, start businesses, and become active members of society. Refugees are professionals, leaders, and neighbors.

 

This year is also the 40th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, which formalized the US resettlement program and asylum system. In observation of this historic anniversary, and in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, on Saturday, June 20th, we stand with our refugee neighbors and commemorate World Refugee Day. Throughout the month of June, we join people across the world to celebrate the courage and resilience of refugees, recognizing the hardships they have faced and the new lives they have created. Now is a time to come together in an exceptional show of human solidarity and kindness. As refugees and friends of refugees in the United States, we celebrate the positive impact refugees have on US communities. We know the challenges newcomers face are greater than ever and that we must rally in support of preserving the resettlement program and promoting policies that help refugees rebuild their lives in the United States.

 

Please join us in the spirit of welcome by taking action to underscore the ways in which refugees enrich our communities and are champions in communities around the world for human rights. Consider how you personally and your faith community can make time to commemorate World Refugee Day between now and Sunday, July 5th (Immigration Sunday). 

 

Pray with and for refugees the world over. This year we particularly lift up our Cameroonian siblings who are internally displaced as well as those who are in our immigration detention centers. Cameroon used to be one of the most refugee-friendly countries in the world. However, in 2016, nonviolent protestors from the English-speaking minority claimed that they were disadvantaged by a political and educational system that favored the French-speaking majority. When the government responded to these protests with violence, armed separatist groups rose up with the intent to declare an independent state. Since then, over 950,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Cameroon.

Write your members of congress to adopt policies that ensure the welcome and safety of refugees and asylum seekers who come to the US and the resources to save lives overseas.

Connect and Learn from refugees, faith and community leaders about their firsthand experiences and how you can be an ally or leader in your own community.

If you look under the “browse” sidebar to the right, you will find a number of education and worship resources. Let’s recommit this World Refugee Day to building a safe and equitable society, where refugees, asylum seekers, and people of all races and nationalities are welcome. #WeChooseWelcome

 

 
 
 

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