|Photo credit: Jesuit Refugee Services
As the conflicts around the world to send thousands of people fleeing to hoped-for safety and opportunity, humanitarian leaders are calling the world’s attention to the crisis of refugees. Underscoring the urgency of this call to action is the reality of refugee children. In 2015, more than 60 million have been forcibly displaced people—the most since World War II. Tragically, half of those forcibly displaced are children--30 million children often far from home, experiencing trauma, and often lacking basic resources. See http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c1e8.html Even more disturbing is the fact that increasing numbers are unaccompanied minors.
IN THE US: Between 2009 2015, the US documented unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied minors from Central South and America. An estimated sixty-three thousand unaccompanied minors, most coming from Central America, crossed the United States' southern border between October 1, 2013 and July 31, 2014, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported. Kids like Alfonso, who said “The gang told me that if I returned to school, I wouldn’t make it home alive. The gang had killed two kids I went to school with, and I thought I might be the next one. I know someone whom the gangs threatened this way. He didn’t take their threats seriously. They killed him in the park. He was wearing his school uniform. If I hadn’t had these problems, I wouldn’t have come here.” Read Alfonso’s story and what other South and Central American children say in this UNHCR report: http://www.unhcrwashington.org/sites/default/files/UAC_UNHCR_Children%20on%20the%20Run_Full%20Report.pdf.
IN EUROPE: In Europe right now, it is estimated that 7,000 unaccompanied minors, or children feeling along, have come into Europe and reside in refugee camps, like Calais, an overcrowded tent city in Northern France. On January 11th, the Guardian reported on young Masud, a 15 year old Afghan boy who had been waiting for months for his asylum claim to be heard by the UK. Unlike other refugees, Masud in fact had a good chance, even a right, because his sister lived in the UK. (Following the European Union’s Dublin Regulation covering hearing of asylum claims, refugees with close family members can claim asylum in the country where they reside). The Guardian wrote: “Masud was among a group of children listed in a legal challenge against the Home Office that will be heard in London on 18 January … a vulnerable and lonely child who deserved to be urgently reunited with a family member”.
CALLS TO ACTION: Sadly, Masud is one of many children alone, at risk, or even dying. Nonprofits, NGOs, and Churches providing humanitarian aid are urging governments to take action. Bishop of Barking, Peter Hill, a spokesperson for campaign group Citizens UK is quoted: “Every single night, desperate children are climbing into lorries and jumping on to train tracks to try and reach their families. Our government must act to honour its obligations and help these children.” Ciara Peri, of Centro Astalli refugee services http://centroastalli.it/ took time from her role as managing direct services to refugees and asylum-seekers in Rome, Italy, to speak with graduate students from USF School of Management, and explained the immense challenges faced by families and children in trying to navigate asylum in the European Union. Centro Astalli is a part of Jesuit Refugee Services, an international NGO with the mission to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS provides primarily provides emergency response, psycho social supports, and education, and is a strong advocate for refugees. In a January 7 blog post, JRS/USA called for “Common action, not unilateral border controls”, saying that "From Mellila to Calais to the far reaches of the EU’s extremities, we have seen border control's massive negative repercussions and effects on people searching for safety,” (JRS Europe director Jean-Marie Carrière). “Responsible border management does not seek to turn away those in search of international protection.” Days before, they urged President Obama to provide protection for asylum seekers, not deportation, and to offer greater protection to Central American families fleeing violence. Reade their letter here at http://jrsusa.org/news_detail?TN=NEWS-20160104093630
A powerful voice joining these and other nonprofit leaders in a call for a dignified, humanitarian response is Pope Francis, who continues to urge a welcoming and compassionate, “bold and creative response”. Affirming that Europe has capacity to welcome migrants without threatening security or culture, the Pope said Monday "Europe has the means to defend the centrality of the human person and to find the right balance between its twofold moral responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and to ensure assistance and acceptance to migrants." The “people’s pope” has been consistent and clear in this call to politicians, parishioners, and all people to show love, mercy, and justice. Over three years ago, August of 2013, the Holy Father wrote, “A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.” Read more from the Pope on Vatican news at http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-angelus-appeal-for-migrants-and-refug
A Bold and Creative Response The current refugee problem could be more aptly recognized as a conflict crisis creating a refugee crisis, and one that is catching babies and young children in an unacceptable turmoil of fear, lack of safety, and death. Humanitarians say: we can, and should, do better.
Do Something Now:Educate yourself and others. Learn “push” and “pull” factors, of why people choose to leave their whole lives behind for something better. Listen to refugee experiences, and what they are hoping for. Learn the massive benefits that migrant populations bring. Some places to start referenced in this article: UNHCR: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home Jesuit Refugee Services: http://en.jrs.net/
Volunteer: Find an organization in your area that supports immigrants, refugees, or trafficked persons. Suggest your favorites in the comments to this blog!
Donate: Organizations at the forefront need our support. Research your own, or donate here to organizations on the frontlines. These organizations leverage substantial volunteer efforts:
Jesuit Refugee Services: https://www.jrsusa.org/donate?LID=201
Medicins Sans Frontieres: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/support-us
Advocate: Informal and formally advocate for refugees. Jesuit Refugee Service/USA has ongoing action alerts and for people to contact Senators and Representatives on key issues.