US Catholic Faith in Real Life

They don't have to live like they're refugees

By Kevin Clarke | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Occasionally when I succumb to the urging of one or two of the smaller people who live in my home and fling them over a shoulder for a fireman's carry, I find myself pondering the experience of the refugee families I see on the news. Here I am huffing and puffing to near middle-age collapse struggling for a block (or a flight of stairs) with one child, how well would I handle my little ones during a trek across a desert or through a jungle to escape some human or natural calamity suddenly befalling my clan. None too well I'm forced to conclude.

My imaginary hardship is all too real to millions of people around the world. A recent UN report concludes that of the 42 million "forcibly displaced people worldwide" in 2008, more than 26 million endure the limbo-ish lifestyles of internally displaced people—IDPs in  UN bureaucrat-speak. Not technically refugees, since they don't cross national borders, they are certainly refugees from a stable and predictable life and too familiar with hunger, suffering, and a gnawing uncertainty about their future.

Millions have recently been displaced because of widespread violence in Pakistan—where a staggering number  have been driven from their homes and villages—and Sri Lanka. Millions more have moldered for years because of indifference and inattention from the global community in nations like Colombia and Thailand.

Developing countries are host to four-fifths of the world’s refugees. In other words the countries least able to bear it are being asked to shoulder the largest global burden in terms of refugee settlement and support.

The U.S. commitment to refugee resettlement is finally returning to something approaching its pre-9/11 levels. The United States went from admitting 27,119 refugees in 2002 to 60,192 in 2008, according to figures compiled by the U.S. State Department.

Unfortunately our normal quota was already too low and is now profoundly inadequate in the face of so much suffering—a good portion of that caused by our own intervention in Iraq in 2003, which led to widespread human dislocation.

The UN report calls for more support to the struggling nations which are playing host to the world's dislocated and a greater openness to resettlement among the many nations quite capable of absorbing refugee people. The U.S. could do more on both counts.

Let's not be petty; when we could be generous—even in these more difficult economic times. They don't have to live like they're refugees.