On June 20, World Relief and 41 other leading faith organizations released a letter to Secretary of State Pompeo urging the administration to increase the number of refugees resettled in the U.S., particularly those who are fleeing persecution as religious minorities in their country of origin. At a time when there are more than 70 million people forcibly displaced, the group believes a renewed commitment to U.S. refugee resettlement must be a core part of our foreign policy agenda, in coordination with promoting international religious freedom abroad.
Rebecca Linder Blachly, Director of the Office of Government Relations and Staff of the Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church, moderated the call. She commented: “We’re excited to speak about the importance of World Refugee Day and religious freedom. The entire global community commemorates the strength of refugees worldwide, recognizing their resilience on World Refugee Day. We see the ongoing need to resettle the world’s most vulnerable refugees through the U.S.’s refugee program. The Episcopal Church joined because we believe refugee resettlement is a key way we can live into our commitment to protect those fleeing religious persecution and welcome refugees. We believe it is a key tenet of our faith to do so.”
Pari Ibrahim, Founder and Executive Director, Free Yezidi Foundation commented: “While ISIS is militarily defeated, they are not gone yet. We are very concerned about the tens of thousands of members who remain in Syria and Iraq. Security is one of the main reasons why Yezidis are displaced and why religious minorities do not feel safe in Iraq and want to start a future for their children in another country. As a Yezidi, it is really shocking to me that a big country like the U.S. only took in 20 Yezidis last year – especially because the U.S. is pushing so much for religious freedom, and Vice President Pence declared the ISIS attack against the Yezidi community a genocide. If this is the case, why are only 20 Yezidis projected to be resettled in 2019 and only 5 were resettled in 2018? Our people are among the most desperate and in need of a new start. We encourage the U.S. to do more for people in such desperate situations.”
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism commented: “Cuts to the refugee resettlement program diminish the U.S. government’s resolve to protecting religious freedom. As Jews, we understand the importance of standing in solidarity with those persecuted for simply practicing their faith. We both know the pain of being turned away from America’s shores and the power of finding refuge in this country.”
Melanie Nezer, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs, HIAS, commented: “140 years after HIAS began serving Kosher meals to refugees at the docks, we’re doing basically the same work. Refugees still need our help. Each number represents a real story and human we have the power to save. We are concerned about the long term impact of the steps the administration has taken to dismantle the program; the smaller numbers lead to a weaker national program. This is a system that took 40 years to build and will take years to rebuild if we continue down this path. If we’re not protecting the people fleeing religious persecution, it sends a signal – not only to those fleeing, but also to the persecutors, themselves – that we don’t care.”
Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy, World Relief, commented: “World Relief is proud to have a longstanding partnership with the U.S. State Department as one of the nine refugee resettlement agencies, and we have witnessed firsthand the incredible impact for good that refugees bring to communities all around the country. It’s disconcerting to see fewer numbers of refugees resettled to the U.S. when we should be accepting more, because it means that more refugees are not allowed safety from persecution. it also weakens the U.S. goal of promoting international religious freedom abroad.”
Arooj Nirmal, Pakistani refugee resettled to Spokane, WA, commented: “I came into the U.S. in 2017 and World Relief received me at the airport and has taken care of me until now. Before that, we lived in Sri Lanka for four years as refugees. Christians are persecuted there, and we got in trouble. I left, but my husband is still in a dangerous place, trying to join me. We’ve been apart for a long time. I have a strong faith in God, and believe one day he will make a miracle for us to get back together. I look forward for my husband to join me, and for now I’m just waiting. I am thankful to World Relief for helping me speak about this persecution and what’s going on around the world.”
Durmomo Gary, Sudanese refugee resettled to Wheaton, IL, commented: “I arrived in U.S. in 2006. When I was pushed out, there was only one Sudan. Life has been difficult for a long time. As a Christian, I was denied many opportunities. My father was shot before I was born simply because he was a Christian. I accepted that persecution was what Christians go through – until I found out there was a warrant out for my life. I had to choose: to stay and die or seek another opportunity. I had to leave without knowing where I was going. When I got to the U.S., I was welcomed by a local church, of which I am proud to say I am now a member. They welcomed me and helped me start my life. I used to be afraid to go to church, but now I can go without fear. I’ve even become a pastor at a local church. If it weren’t for the resettlement program, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. I wouldn’t have been able to be used by God to serve churches. Thank you for letting me be here and serve God.”
Jen Smyers, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Immigration and Refugee Program, Church World Service, commented: “The United States needs to reclaim our legacy as a leader in refugee protection and resettlement, especially during today’s global refugee crisis. That’s why we’re calling on the administration to return the resettlement program to historic norms, and we call on Congress, the media and the public to hold them accountable to that end.”
The call covered the declining refugee resettlement numbers in the U.S. and the persecution facing refugees around the world. Participants urged the administration to restore the ceiling for refugee admissions to the average annual cap of 95,000 refugees this year.