Monday, November 23, 2015

Terrorist attacks and refugee desperation: What to do?

The refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe has been building up over the past two and a half
years, reaching a point now where definitive action needs to be taken. But the terrorist attacks in Beirut, Paris, Mali, Nigeria (am I forgetting some of them?) put the requirements of national security foremost in everyone's minds. With little to restrain them in the way of conscience, the Paris terrorists (European citizens, all) carried a fake Syrian passport into the fray, ensuring that the refugees now in Europe would shoulder some of the blame and thus face even greater challenges than they did surviving a sea crossing in dinghies and rafts.

Image of another refugee crisis (from The Atlantic);
the US Coast Guard rescues Cubans from an overturned raft.
Here in the US, we are not getting refugees washed up on our shores (though that did happen in 1994, with refugees from Cuba), but the conversations are nonetheless very heated. Every last refugee, down to the "three year old orphan" is now being seen as a terrorist. Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge, which recently placed two Syrian families in Louisiana, has even been getting phoned-in threats from people who are convinced that we are facing an honest-to-God invasion. There are genuine (and founded) concerns that all those seeking refugee status be properly vetted, and worries about immigrant enclaves forming beachhead communities where our national unity and "way of life" may begin to be undermined through the practice of foreign (i.e. Islamic) law and the force of custom.

I am as confounded as the next person about which steps need to be taken. One step I am sure must not be taken, however, is to accept the judgments of those who portray everything in the starkest terms, especially those who use dehumanizing language that belittles the human dignity of the people whose lives are already in such precarious circumstances. After all, what we across the ocean may fear as a possibility is a reality for tens of thousands of refugees (half of whom, reports indicate are women and children under the age of 17): loss of home, livelihood, family members, security, education. And one thing the fear-mongers neglect to say is that keeping young people in precarious conditions is a sure-fire way of filling their hearts with resentment and preparing them to accept terrorist ideology. In other words, American fear-mongers are doing ISIS' work for them.

Over the past ten or so days, I have found many very informative articles online about the refugee "vetting" process and other issues related to the current events. I am trying to draw on different sources, and not to rely on one or another ideologically-driven news source. It is hard to get solid news about the fate of Christians in the various refugee settings, both in the Middle East and in Europe; there are some indications that the Christians are suffering marginalization and persecution and are avoiding the UN sponsored settlements for refugees. (Unfortunately, this means their numbers are not counted, and their possibility for being considered for refugee status is ruled out.)

Here is some of what I have found (and found helpful):

What's at Stake:
Pope Francis and Paris Archbishop respond to the attacks,
remind that violence in the name of religion is blasphemy.

American Cardinal says ISIS intent on wiping out all Christians in Middle East 

6 Reasons to Welcome Refugees after Paris

Personal Experiences:
Iraqi nun, herself a refugee from the first Gulf war, offers words of insight (including this warning: “While I understand why people would want to react this way out of fear for what they have seen, but by closing our doors to all the victims of ISIS, we are only giving ISIS even more power. In a very real sense, they have succeeded in terrorizing us."

Refugee Resettlement: Balancing Compassion with Discernment: a volunteer with a refugee service offers caution, seeing even long-established refugee families turning bitter as this new crisis unfolds amid harsh rhetoric.

Syrian Christian refugee in Jordan gets help at a Catholic hospital while hoping (against hope?) to be united with his daughter in California.

Syrian Christian dad talks about sending his kids to school in the morning, not knowing if they will survive the day

Information about Refugee processes:
Immigration lawyer explains the refugee process
Corrects some common misunderstandings (and "outright lies").
Three important facts about the US process

Guidance from the Bishops:
President of US Bishops' Conference statement (September)

Statement from Cardinal O'Malley (Boston) on openness to refugees after the Paris attacks

Bishop Malone (Buffalo) offers some advice and a wonderful prayer: why not make that prayer part of your Advent practice?

Catholic aid organizations actively addressing the crisis in Syria and other nations in the Middle East:
Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land 
Sovereign Order of Malta
Catholic Near East Welfare Association


Anonymous said...

Our Canadian government has announced that the refugees we accept into our country will consist of women, children and families, no single men. This, too, seems to be discrimination but must serve as seeming to satisfy security concerns. Of all the news I've been following, when the subject of the Syrian refugees arises I have yet to see anything recently about Christian refugees - where are they? Are they all dead? The vast majority are Muslims escaping extremist Muslims.

Living in a multicultural society rather than a melting pot such as in the U.S. the refugees we take in will be accommodated as far as possible, their traditions and culture respected, given English language classes, health care, their rent will be reduced in some cases by a national apartment rental company, local churches of all denominations will supply clothing, furniture, assistance.It's hoped they will eventually become integrated and productive members of our society as they find work.

If there's a fear that in time there will be more of "them" than "us" we can thank the use of contraception and abortion for reducing "our" numbers. My own family immigrated from the U.K. shortly before and shortly after WW 1, economic refugees who were discriminated against due to their being Catholic by the state religion over there. They came by ship in steerage with little children and only a couple of steamer trunks, resettled and established themselves. It was difficult but necessary, and I am the first generation born in Canada, so the stories of their experiences are not that old.

I understand the fears people have about security, and I share them, but whether we appreciate other cultures or not, "they" were created in God's image, too, just as we were, and if we truly believe what we profess we should lay aside our discrimination and see the opportunity to assist them as an opportunity to live our faith. - Jean

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Thanks, Jean, for sharing your family's experience. My French ancestors had somewhat the opposite experience; they had been happily settled in La Louisiane for a hundred years when...the Americans took over! The very ground under my ancestor's feet had been sold to the United States, and nobody could say "boo" (or the French equivalent).
I lived for a while in Italy and it really helped me appreciate what the many different immigrant groups brought to the US. It will be our job to help the new immigrants to really become integrated with society, and that means we have to be available to them in whatever ways correspond with our possibilities. Let's begin to pray now for the light we need to make our individual contributions!

Anonymous said...

You're right, there are many little ways to help, too, Sister. For example our daughter rents in a complex owned by the rent reducing company I mentioned. She e-mailed to say if any refugees were to be settled in her complex she was willing to visit with them as a neighbour, helping with conversational English. There is a coffee shop a short walk from her place so that would be a perfect destination as well. Explaining our local customs, shopping, even dispelling fears that our snowy winter doesn't last all year long, all this has proven to be helpful for folks coming from the other side of the world. In the end we need to keep our fears in check as no doubt that's not how we journey as Christians. We need to consider what we treasure most as Jesus said, that's where our heart will be. Advent being a perfect time to consider how we'll welcome that little Stranger born in a stable, I'll certainly be meditating on how to welcome Him in the other newcomers I meet. Blessings to you & your readers, Jean.