By Barb Arland-Fye
On the rare occasion we lose electricity at my house — usually because of a storm — I’m the first to complain about not having access to the computer, refrigerator or microwave.
As the United Nations marked World Refugee Day on June 20 — and stories of the hardships facing millions of refuges worldwide have come to my attention — I’ve been thinking about my reaction to temporary inconveniences.
An estimated 42 million people worldwide have been uprooted from their homes, reports the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Many refugees lack life’s essentials — food, water, shelter, health care and education.
Just turn to Page 7 in this week’s Catholic Messenger and you’ll see faces of some of those refugees — in this case, people caught up in the strife between Sudan and Southern Sudan. “A lot of people have been displaced. A lot are running for their lives in the villages in the forest. So we have a huge, huge need for humanitarian assistance,” Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala of Southern Sudan says in the Catholic News Service (CNS) story.
Last month CNS told the story of Oswaldo Duarte, a Colombian who once harvested coffee beans from his mountainous plantation in western Colombia, but fled four years ago because of civil war.
“It was too dangerous to stay,” he said recently, four years after leaving his home. “I abandoned the farm and left everything behind. It was my only choice.”
Displaced Colombians like Duarte face a daunting challenge in trying to start a new life in Panama, CNS reported.
Another CNS story from last month told of migrants in Libya who have stayed behind in the worsening crisis in that country because they have nowhere else to go. They’ve lost their jobs and are searching for food, medicine, clothing and rent money, said a nun working just outside of Tripoli. “Lots of (migrants) come flocking to the church looking for help,” the Sister said.
Other stories I’ve read tell of displaced women who’ve been raped in refugee camps; it’s a way for attackers to demonstrate to the victims’ husbands that they aren’t able to protect their own families. The brutality is appalling! I can’t imagine how these victims endure the psychological scars, let alone the physical ones.
During his recitation of the Angelus after Mass June 19, Pope Benedict XVI called on the world’s government officials and people of goodwill “to guarantee refugees are welcomed and live in dignified conditions as they wait for when they can return home freely and safely.”
And on World Refugee Day, Ambassador Johnny Young, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged the United States to maintain its role as a global leader in refugee protection.
Young expressed the USCCB’s support for the Refugee Protection Act, which was introduced in Congress last week and would strengthen protections for refugees and asylum-seekers who find safe haven in the United States.
According to a news release, the legislation would eliminate the one-year filing deadline for aliens in the United States to apply for asylum, authorize the Secretary of State to designate certain vulnerable groups as eligible for expedited adjudication of refugees, and facilitate the reunification of families who have been unnecessarily kept apart.
“A large number of refugees rescued by our nation are themselves victims of terror and are in need of protection from such threats,” Ambassador Young said in the news release. Migration and Refugee Services of USCCB is the largest refugee resettlement agency in the United States, serving close to 20,000 refugees every year.
Their plight gives me something to think about — and pray about — now and anytime in the future that I am without my “necessities” for a few hours or longer.