June 15, 2022 8:20 AM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 14, 2022

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Ahead of World Refugee Day,
Advocates Gathered to Call for Restoring Welcome

 

Washington D.C. - Yesterday, ahead of World Refugee Day (June 20), directly-impacted leaders, faith leaders, and advocates gathered to discuss the urgent need to restore welcome for all. Over the past ten years, the global refugee population has more than doubled—now exceeding 84 million—but the U.S.’ ability to welcome refugees, asylum seekers, and others seeking safety has deteriorated. 

 

At the virtual event titled, “Holy Voices for World Refugee Day: Welcome For All,” updates were shared about the current state of the U.S. refugee resettlement and asylum systems and opportunities to advocate for more welcoming policies. The event featured live music, moving stories, reflections, and prayers. A recording of the event is available here

 

“It’s all about us to make the change that we want to see… let’s make the world the best place to live,” sang Mahanga Donald “DJ Grin the Peacemaker,” a Congolese refugee artist and youth leader in Ohio. “It’s true we got problems. It’s true we are victims. It’s true we are refugees. It’s true we are persecuted. It’s true we are being violated. It’s true we are being denied our rights as refugees. But we can make a change that we want to see. What do you want to see? What do I want to see? Let’s make it together… Justice for one is justice for all. Injustice for one is injustice for all. Refugees are not curses, but blessings."

 

“I come from an immigrant and refugee background. I was born in Sudan,” said Tarteel Alimam, CAIR Arizona. “Coming to the U.S. as an eight year old child, I was able to see firsthand the difficulties that come with going from the culture, the society, and the family that you’ve known to something that’s completely foreign; and the importance of extending the hand of being welcomed and being taken in and of being seen as human… It is up to each of us to extend a lending hand to those who come into the country in need of help… It says in the Quran, ‘if any one of you seeks protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the word of God, and escort him to where he may be secure.’”

 

Taisha Saintil of the Haitian Bridge Alliance spoke about the deadly cost of the U.S.’ anti-asylum policies—especially for Haitians and other Black migrants. She reflected: “If these individuals were Jesus, would we really have been treating them like this? But the fact of the matter is that they should represent Jesus for us. I am a Christian, I was raised in the Baptist faith, and a scripture I always live by is found in Matthew 25, where [Jesus] says ‘whatever you did for the least of your brothers, you did for me.’ Spiritually, these individuals should represent God to all of us… We are pushing away the very same people that could be our blessing, the very same people that could enrich our nation. We have to stop burying our brothers and sisters just because they want to seek safety. Every month this year, Haitian Bridge Alliance has had to bury someone… This is truly unacceptable. In addition to prayer, since we know that faith without works is dead, it is super critical to encourage policymakers to do the right thing, especially concerning Title 42.”

 

Gustavo Sermeño, an asylum seeker originally from El Salvador, received a rare exemption to Title 42. “Title 42 doesn’t make sense. It’s just an excuse to be racist… My country was not safe enough to be there. I met my wife along the way, in Mexico, and we came together to the southern border of the United States. We were in Mexico for around three years. My wife was pregnant and we tried to cross into the U.S. a couple of times… one time, when our baby was about to be born, border patrol caught us and brought us to ICE detention. They put an injection into my wife to hold my baby in. Because of that injection, my baby was born one week later and she was blue.” Sermeño’s family is currently in Portland, OR, where they have settled with the help of the United Church of Christ (UCC). He shares: “The UCC church has been our angel. They have helped us with medical stuff, food, water—everything. They have been there for us. Thank God we have these people that are really welcoming us.”

 

"'Love thy neighbor. No exceptions.’ This saying is a reminder that we must welcome and care for at-risk populations who are fleeing atrocities, disasters, and other types of turmoil—regardless of where they come from or any of their identities. We must do this work in collaboration with those who are directly impacted and those who are refugees,” said Anika Forrest, the Friends Committee on National Legislation. “Today we have three main asks: to repair the U.S. refugee resettlement infrastructure and the resettlement program, to restore access to asylum, and to renew protections for at-risk populations.”  

 

“The United States has always been a country of immigrants, so you would imagine that the refugee resettlement program would be a robust one, but unfortunately, it has seen quite a lot of ups and downs,” said Mustafa Babak, Afghan-American Foundation. “Especially recently, the infrastructure–before the Afghan crisis–was completely dissimulated… We need to encourage decision-makers to strengthen the U.S. capacity to resettle as many refugees as possible this year and raise the nation’s resettlement goal to 200,000 refugees for FY2023. We also call on repairing and strengthening our resettlement infrastructure to give refugees a dignified path to resettlement and a healing for us all as Americans.”

 

“The rabbis of old would push every halakhic or legal question to an absurdist extreme… just to make sure no person was left stranded outside the framework of the community,” said Rabbi Megan Doherty, Senior Educator at HIAS. “In this moment, as we approach World Refugee day, it is more important than ever that we strengthen our ability to fully welcome the ever-growing number of people who are fleeing atrocities, disasters, and oppression. Without discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or other marginalized identity, we must use the best tool we have – the US Refugee program – to offer those in need safety, stability, and a permanent place to land.”

 

“We come together today aware that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has indicated in recent weeks that now there is an unprecedented more than one hundred million persons around the world who are displaced,” said Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Disciples of Christ Refugee & Immigration Ministries. “Among them includes more than 4.5 million asylum seekers, over 50 million internally displaced persons, and 26.6 million refugees. Numbers that we have never seen before… the UNHCR lifts up for us the message that every person has a chance for safety and to seek security–whoever they are, wherever they come from, and whenever they are forced to flee.” 

 

SPEAKERS AND PRESENTERS:

  • Mustafa Babak, Afghan-American Foundation
  • DJ Grin the Peacemaker (Mahanga Donald), Congolese refugee artist and youth leader in OH
  • Tarteel Alimam, CAIR-AZ
  • Taisha Saintil, Haitian Bridge Alliance
  • Gustavo Sermeño, asylum seeker and UCC church member in OR
  • Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Disciples of Christ Refugee & Immigration Ministries
  • Anika Forrest, Friends Committee on National Legislation
  • Rabbi Megan Doherty, HIAS

 

EVENT COSPONSORS:

  • Interfaith Immigration Coalition
  • We Are All America
  • Friends Committee on National Legislation
  • Church World Service
  • Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries

 

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