by Rod Paolini, Chair of UUCF’s Muslim Liaison Group.
I’ve noticed lately that refugees are no longer on the front page of newspapers. There are no longer videos of columns of refugees trudging through a countryside nor confrontations with armed guards preventing their entry to a European country. So where are they? As best I can tell, they are “settled in place.” The least fortunate languish in refugee camps. Where’s the hope?
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the end of 2014 there were an estimated 14.4 million refugees (up 19% from the previous year). According to 2015 statistics, it is estimated that there are more than 4.2 million Syrian refugees. The top origin countries for refugees in 2013 were Afghanistan (2.6 million), Syria (2.5 million), Somalia (1.1 million), Sudan (650,000), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (499,600) and Myanmar (480,000).
The United States is doing its part: We accept 50,000-70,000 refugees per year. But these numbers are much fewer than were accepted in other crises. In 1979, we provided sanctuary to 111,000 Vietnamese refugees and in 1980 almost doubled that number to 207,000. Around the same time, the United States took in more than 120,000 Cuban refugees during the Mariel boatlift, including more than 80,000 in one month alone.
The voices of today are not so welcoming. In announcing that his state would not accept any Syrian refugees, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, “I demand the U.S. act similarly,” he said. “Security comes first.”
Are refugees a risk to our safety, especially ones from countries where terrorism has taken root? I suppose so, though I think the risk quite small. Refugees are people fleeing terrorism. They are primarily families and not individuals. They do not choose where to resettle. They are vetted over an 18-24 month period.
Compassion and love should not be limited to only safe situations. Sometimes compassion and love require moral courage: doing the right thing even when it is not completely safe and not totally acceptable.
As UUCF prepares to co-sponsor a refugee family next month, it is important for us to keep in mind: We cannot help millions of refugees, but we can help one family; and in doing so, we can demonstrate our love, compassion and courage. We can affirm our UU principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We can welcome the stranger to a community that is America.
Editor’s Note: Many volunteers are needed to help UUCF prepare to welcome a refugee family next month. For more information, go to uucf.org/refugee.