The definition of a refugee was developed by the United Nations in 1951 following World War II. It is as follows: “a person, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” In brief, it is a person who fears for their personal safety based on the condition of their home country. Often the misconception has been that a refugee is merely an immigrant looking for opportunity in a “free” country. A refugee is, in fact, seeking to stay alive.
According to current statistics from the State Department, the U.S. government accepts thousands of refugees each year and provides cash, medical and housing rental assistance to them through nonprofit resettlement agencies.
The number of refugees accepted (which is set annually by the president) reached a peak of 142,000 during the Balkan wars in 1993. It was 80,000 between 2008 and 2011, dropped to 76,000 in 2012 and has been at 70,000 since 2013.
During the current fiscal year, the U.S. plans to accept 110,000 refugees, with only a small portion of that number coming from Syria, hardly scratching the surface of the more than four million Syrians displaced by war since 2011. There are currently 20 million people classified as refugees out of 65 million people who have been displaced by violence in their home country. It is often believed that those who enter the United States under these conditions present a threat to our nation’s security. It might then surprising to some to know that since 2001, 800 thousand refugees have been resettled in the U.S. and NONE of this number has been convicted of an act of terrorism.
The screening process: which involves the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and Defense Department, is rigorous, screening the millions of foreign visitors and thousands of foreign students who come to the U.S. each year (most refugees are referred to the U.S. by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).
The World Relief organization, which has local offices in Modesto, has resettled more than a quarter of a million refugees over the last 40 years. World Relief is an Evangelical Charity that works with local churches to assist refugees and not only give them a place to live, but give them a place to belong. The motivations of World Relief are to apply biblical principles to the cause of humanity. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” There is no political agenda, but an agenda of helping a fellow human beings who are in need of living a life free from fear, for them, as well as their families. While the resettlement process might take from 18 to 24 months, the involvement of World Relief to place individuals, or families, with local churches can take as little as several months, and often the personal connections with World Relief staff can continue through the familial bonds, which are often established.
Lori Aderholt, Executive Director of Modesto World Relief, emphasizes the struggle of displacing one’s own family. “Who would voluntarily leave their home country and take their family to another country merely to start over? Many would choose not to leave, but are leaving for the chance to save themselves, as well as their immediate family. They often leave extended family behind.” She goes on to say that we must consider what is being given up, and help nurture a culture of “welcoming the stranger.” “We must put ourselves in their shoes and show true empathy.” World Relief works with local churches to develop housing, employment and education. World Relief also helps provide legal help to assist with U.S. citizenship. It is worth noting again that World Relief works with refugees once they have gone through the extensive governmental screening process and they do not have a political agenda.
With the completion of the presidential election and the appointment of a new president, there might be concerns, but there is also a confidence that those who are screened will get the chance to live free from fear of an oppressive life in their home country. World Relief is set on continuing its efforts with recognition of governmental realities, and will continue to work to help as many people as the government will allow. According to World Relief, “We have a government with a system of checks and balances. There is not a single branch of government which can act independently without majority agreement, and while the numbers of overall refugees could possibly be reduced; it is very unlikely that refugee assistance will stop.”
The mission of an organization like World Relief is compassion. It is becoming increasingly challenging in our current world climate to maintain optimism for a world where we trust, give to, and love our “fellow man.” As refugees arrive, they rarely have more than the clothes on their backs and possibly a bag or two. World Relief relies on public donations to help provide basic necessities as well as provide furnishings for homes. It is good to know that the love for humanity will motivate some to open their hearts, as well as their wallets, to give refugees (men, women, and children) a chance to live with many of the same freedoms we take for granted. ν
For more information and to give to Modesto World Relief, visit worldreliefmodesto.org.
by Xavier Huerta
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