We do have a serious problem with violence in this country, but the source is not the highly vetted refugees entering this country seeking a new life. The 18-36 month process that selects refugees who will come to the United States is by far more rigorous than any other process by which someone enters any country. I know because I have seen the process in detail. In 2015, my wife, Victoria, and I were able to see the refugee crisis first hand when we worked our way upstream through the system to a camp in Rwanda where a group caught in Africa’s world war in the Congo can never return home nor can they stay where the are.
Along the way, we observed the many steps in the vetting process that starts with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees interviewing the refugees. I spoke at length with a translator who heard their stories and told me how the UNHCR carefully works to corroborate stories. Multiple interviews uncover exactly what caused someone to leave their home to flee to another country. They get down to the micro level of what happened at what time of night in which village and then corroborate the stories with the accounts of others. In the process, they detail unspeakable tragedies of rape and torture, putting down with precision the inhumanity which causes humans to leave the only life they have known with the few possessions they can carry.
Again and again, we met people whose greatest desire was to return home. Pictured above is Kaltun, a 24 year old Somali woman She settled in Kenya where she shoulders an important work load as one of three Community Health Volunteers who go door to door where western aid workers rightfully fear to tread. Her work takes her into the homes of the urban refugees in the dangerous Easterly neighborhood. I share her picture in a post on refugees coming to America to show how many refugees return home or stay closer to home. In fact, the UNHCR is charged with finding a “durable solution” for those like her who flee their country to avoid persecution with three options on the table:
- Resettle in their home country.
- Resettle in the second country where they currently have asylum (like Kaltun shown above).
- Resettle in a third country.
Option 3 is the durable solution for just 1 in 100 refugees.
For those in this group who the United States is considering, our State Department takes over. Intense screenings follow with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense weighing in. This lengthy process follows the initial screening by the UNHCR. Additional security checks continue once refugees move to the States. The State Department then tried to place refugees in an area where they have friends and relatives, or at least in a city with an established community sharing the language and culture. (At right, though dressed in clericals, I play soccer with refugees in Gihembe Camp, Rwanda, while other look on and laugh).
News stories about persons committing crimes in this country, such as the shooting in San Bernadino, blur the lines to suggest that refugees attacked people in their new country. These attacks have been by lawful, permanent residents born in this country. We can, and should, talk about the problems we have in this country, but we need to do so knowing that refugees are not the ones committing acts of violence.
“You shall not oppress a resident alien;
you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens
in the land of Egypt.”
Essential to Our Faith
Jesus would come to distill the essence of his teaching to Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. He would then define neighbor in such as way as to make it clear that the term is inclusive of all persons, with an emphasis on the poor and needy. Christians then do not have the luxury of deciding whether we would like to care for refugees so much as deciding whether we want to follow Jesus. For those who seek to follow him, caring for widows, orphans, and those in need, is all part of the journey that is essential to our faith rather than a possible extra curricular add on.
What the Episcopal Church is Doing
There is no denying that issues of migration are politically thorny. Working with refugees identified by the United Nations and U.S. State Department is more straightforward, but also involves a tangle of issues. Yet for those of us of faith, we can not simply consider these political realities with no reference to our theology which reminds us of our common identity binding us to all other humans.
Nine agencies resettle refugees in this country, including one run by the Episcopal Church. Through thirty affiliates across the country, Episcopal Migration Ministries makes the love of God real each year for more than 5,000 persons resettling in the United States. This is, of course, purely to serve others and without proselytizing or other motives other than assisting people in need, especially in there first months in this country. Through this ministry, the Episcopal Church practices what we preach about seeking and serving Christ in all persons and respecting the dignity of all. On average, our churchwide efforts help 100 persons a week begin a new life. While not every Episcopalian need support this great work of our church personally, we can still appreciate this ministry as an important part of what we do together that none of us could accomplish on our own.
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary
To get a better feel for the work EMM does, you will also find extremely helpful, the series of short videos they created. I have embedded one below, the others are found online here: EMM Media Page