"Emergency: Syria." "Emergency: South Sudan." These are the alarming messages on display on the homepage of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
According to the UNHCR, Syria has more people forcibly displaced than any country on Earth. Over 9 million Syrians have been uprooted from their homes because of civil war. Over 2.5 million of them have fled to neighboring countries as refugees. And, most distressing, more than half of the displaced are children.
In South Sudan, UNHCR reports the civil war and growing food shortages there has led to approximately 2,000 people crossing into nearby countries per day. Many of these refugees have been arriving exhausted, nutritionally weak and in poor health.
According to UNHCR, armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has caused about 450,000 people to cross into neighboring countries as refugees.
And armed conflict in the Central African Republic has created a refugee population of more than 312,000. While its number of refugees is not the continent's largest, the violence there is so overwhelming that Steve Hilbert, international policy adviser for Africa at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, believes it is Africa's most desperate nation.
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These tragic examples highlight the massive refugee crisis throughout much of the world. While many poorer countries are stretching their meager resources to accept and aid refugees, most rich nations are not adequately responding.
For example, UNHCR reports that Lebanon continues to host nearly 1 million refugees from Syria, and according to legislative specialist Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. took in only 30 Syrian refugees in 2013. She said CRS is urging the Obama administration to allow 15,000 Syrians into the U.S. this coming year.
The number of Syrian refugees hosted in Lebanon would be equivalent to over 73 million refugees in the U.S., UNHCR reports.
Kevin Appleby, director of the USCCB's Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, said the U.S. must set the example so other rich nations will follow. He said we need to significantly increase financial refugee assistance to the UNHCR and allow many more of the world's refugees into our nation.
Appleby said on average, the U.S. takes in 60,000 refugees per year. He noted that during the height of the Vietnam War, the U.S. took in 132,000 Vietnamese in a single year. He said the U.S. could easily take in at least 100,000 annually.
Please email and call your congressperson and two U.S. senators (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) urging them to significantly increase funding for international humanitarian assistance. Such an increase would provide much-needed added assistance to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees' efforts in aiding refugees.
Also, urge your congressional delegation to push for a significant expansion of the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. each year.
You can provide additional help to refugees by sending a check to Catholic Relief Services, P.O. Box 17090, Baltimore, MD 21203-7090. Kindly earmark your check "refugee aid." You can also donate online.
Soon-to-be-canonized Pope John Paul II said, "Concern for refugees must ... highlight universally recognized human rights" and that "the effective recognition of these rights be guaranteed to refugees."
During Lent, when we are called to remember the poor in a special way, we would do well to remember that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were once refugees.
[Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, "Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century," has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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