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As World Refugee Day Approaches, We Must Respond to the Call

As World Refugee Day Approaches, We Must Respond to the Call

On June 20, nations, communities, congregations and individuals across the globe will observe World Refugee Day. World Refugee Day was established in 2001 to recognize the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. This convention is the foundational document guaranteeing basic rights for refugees who have fled persecution in their home country – particularly protection from being returned to a country where they face danger or death.

As the violent Syrian civil war continues into its sixth year, the number of refugees in the world in desperate need of resettlement has climbed higher and higher. Currently, there are over five million Syrian refugees who have fled violence at home. Despite the immense need for compassion and hospitality, U.S. policy and rhetoric is more hostile than ever to refugees. Throughout the 2017 fiscal year, the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. has declined steadily in 46 states, and the number of newly admitted refugees has slowed to a trickle of just 400 individuals per week, down from nearly 2,500 per week in October 2016.

At this rate, the U.S. will only resettle 50,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year. This is simply not an adequate response to a crisis of this scope. During the week of June 12-16, leading up to World Refugee Day, we are joining our interfaith partners in a push to make 100,000 calls to our Members of Congress urging them to support measures to welcome more refugees.

You can find detailed instructions here for how to find and call your Senators and House Representatives.

The weeks leading up to World Refugee Day are an important time to raise awareness and activate your community to support refugees. Here are five ways you can commemorate this important day:

  1. Invite a refugee or a resettlement expert to speak to your congregation about the refugee crisis. Hearing from an individual with firsthand experience can be a powerful way to move your congregation to act. Download the Refugees Welcome Toolkit to find resources for inviting a refugee speaker to your congregation.
  2. Host a vigil on or around June 6 in memory of the St. Louis, a ship that was turned away from the United States on June 6, 1939, carrying over 900 Jewish German refugees. HIAS has resources to help you in your planning, including a planning document and a content guide, and you can register your vigil here. You can also incorporate a special prayer for World Refugee Day into your vigil or other services.
  3. Connect with your local resettlement agency, and find out how your congregation can help meet the urgent needs of newly resettled refugees. You can find more ways for your congregation to get involved in the RAC-HIAS refugee response guide for congregations.
  4. Tell the President and your Members of Congress that you oppose the discriminatory immigration and refugee ban. Even though the President’s executive order has been halted by federal judges, there is an ongoing legal battle.
  5. Share messages of welcome on social media. Use hashtags like #refugeeswelcome and #withrefugees to show that your congregation welcomes refugees in your community.

The words of Rabbi Pesner’s reflection on World Refugee Day in 2016 continue to ring true and stir us to action: “Jews and Muslims, refugees and immigrants, we are all the children of Abraham, and we must stand up together to call out Islamophobia and bigotry in America and to actively welcome refugees of all religious backgrounds.”

For more on the refugee crisis, check out the RAC’s issue page

Shelby Friedman is a 2016-2017 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. Shelby is from Dallas, TX, where she is a member of Temple Emanu-El. She graduated from Middlebury College. 

Shelby Friedman

Published: 6/01/2017