This World Refugee Day, Amnesty International USA is calling on all people living in the United States to welcome refugees and asylum-seekers into their communities. While some elected leaders would have us believe that those seeking safety do not deserve to be welcomed here in the United States, we know this to be false. Every day, we see the tremendous popular support that exists for welcoming refugees and asylum seekers in towns, cities, and public squares around the country. On this World Refugee Day, Amnesty International USA urges individuals to take action to welcome those in search of safety into their communities.
“Refugees are ordinary human beings who have been forced to flee their homes under the most extraordinary circumstances. They all deserve to have their human rights respected, protected, and fulfilled,” said Ryan Mace Grassroots Advocacy & Refugee Specialist for Amnesty International. “Refugees bring so much to their communities, wherever they are. They have innumerable skills, ideas, hopes, and dreams. Here in the U.S., we should be welcoming them into our communities with open arms and inviting them to our table, not building taller walls and implementing draconian policies meant to keep refugees and asylum seekers out.”
The Conflicts We Cannot Ignore
There are over 65 million people displaced around the world, and over 22.5 million are refugees who were forced to flee their homes due to violence, persecution, and war. At a time when approximately 1.2 million refugees are in need of resettlement globally, here in the United States, the Administration set the lowest refugee admissions goal in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program – only 45,000 refugees can be resettled here in the U.S. this fiscal year. To make matters worse, the U.S. has not even resettled 15,000 refugees, far below where they should be at this point. At this rate, we will not even reach half of the already drastically lowered goal.
South of the US border, there is an ignored refugee crisis. Tens of thousands of people – including families – are forced to leave their homes to seek protection in the United States due to persecution and targeted violence. They come to the U.S. seeking safety, but instead of finding protection, they are more and more frequently pushed back at the border or thrown into detention, such as Alejandra, a transgender asylum seeker detained on World Refugee Day. She has been in detention since asking for asylum late last fall.
Perhaps most cruelly, families are forcibly separated, children torn form parents’ arms. Amnesty International recently conducted a two-and-a-half-week research mission along the U.S. southern border and found that since 2017, the Department of Homeland Security is increasingly forcibly separating children from their parents or guardians when these families request asylum. One of the parents interviewed by Amnesty International was a grandmother who fled with her granddaughter to prevent her from being forced to become a “girlfriend” of a gang member in Honduras. Other parents fled to save themselves and their children from being killed by police in Brazil, where extrajudicial executions at the hands of police officials are frequent. One such case is Val, who presented herself along with her seven-year-old son at the El Paso Port of Entry asking for help after drug traffickers threatened her and her family when she insisted they stop dealing drugs in front of her home. However, when she asked for asylum in the U.S., she was told “you don’t have any rights here, you don’t have rights to your son” as her son was forcibly removed from her and she was placed in detention. Her son was terrified, believing that Border Control agents would kill his mother.
“We must offer protection and safety to those who have done nothing other than seek safety for themselves and their loved ones,” said Ryan Mace, “instead of punishing asylum-seeking parents and their children, denying them access to protection, and criminalizing people who have lost absolutely everything, we must think of the best interests of those requesting asylum at our border. It is unconscionable that we are separating children from their families. It also violates international law.”
Those seeking safety in our world also include Rohingya refugees that have fled ethnic cleansing and other horrific violence in Myanmar that rises to the levels of crimes against humanity under international law. After fleeing killing, burning, rape, and physical violence, the Rohingya now find themselves in makeshift shelters made of earth, bamboo, and plastic built on hillsides that leave them highly vulnerable to landslides and floods as the cyclone and monsoon season comes upon them.
The US and international community also continue to largely ignore, or severely underfund, some of the world’s largest humanitarian crises currently taking place. In Africa, the Lake Chad Basin grapples with an insurgency by the armed group known as Boko Haram, the impacts of climate change and political crises that force people to flee. As the Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Cameroon face another year of protracted crises involving decades of conflict and government, judicial, and security institutions that are either ineffective or totally non-existent, civilians bear the brunt of violence and armed conflict, fleeing their homes into precarious futures, not knowing when, if ever they would be able to see their homes again and eager to find brighter futures, education opportunities, livelihoods, comprehensive health services and reliable food security. We must not forget these other millions of people displaced and facing grave insecurity.
Refugees and millions of others forced from their homes should know that in the U.S., we are eager to welcome them to the United States or ensure they receive critical humanitarian assistance they need. Amnesty International and its supporters are working to welcome refugees in the U.S. through community sponsorship and other meaningful actions that collectively have impact, like writing letters to elected officials, hosting discussions, and incorporating refugee stories into local gatherings and events. Amnesty International has partnered with resettlement agencies across the country to support community sponsorship, where our members can sponsor a refugee or a refugee family resettled in their community. In the spirit of building a longer table instead of a taller wall, Amnesty International’s ‘Longer Table Initiative’, which launches today, encourages all individuals and communities to take meaningful actions to support refugees, both today and every day.
Through ‘I Welcome’ resolutions, communities can make a personal commitment to support refugees in rebuilding their lives in safety. Twenty-five resolutions and mayoral proclamations have already passed in cities like Miami and New York that have committed to protecting their immigrant pasts and ensuring their diverse futures.