According to the latest report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 60 million people worldwide are currently a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum due to wars, conflict and persecution in their homeland. That’s one in every 122 humans on this planet. But are most of us aware of these staggering numbers? Hardly.
This global phenomena only started to become a hot topic in Western mass media when migrants and refugees began storming the borders into the European Union (EU). More than one million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, the majority from war torn Syria where ongoing violence prompted more than 4 million to flee. The resulting humanitarian crisis created division in the EU, as countries struggle to cope with the influx of new arrivals and develop a strategy for resettling people. Across the Atlantic in America, we watched from a distance but public opinion was stirred up.
Although data kept by the Refugee Processing Center indicates that only 2,192 Syrian refugees were relocated to the U.S. in 2015, the public outcry and firestorm of political controversy that ignited about accepting Syrian refugees would suggest otherwise. The uproar was largely fueled by fear following the terror attacks in Europe, but could there be a greater shift in attitude at play? Apart from Native Americans who were here from the start, the ancestors of all Americans were once newcomers to this land. Have we become less eager to put out the welcome mat for immigrants and refugees?
At Tzu Chi, we keep advocacy for humanistic culture, tolerance of difference, and the fostering of compassion close to heart, so we decided to explore the story of newcomers to America to help build public awareness and encourage acceptance if need be. Our new video series “The Resettled” premieres on April 18 and presents the stories of refugees who have or are in the process of making a new home in the USA, while introducing organizations that help immigrants, refugees, and asylees as they transition to a new life here.
For this series, we worked with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) to film with a family in Dearborn, MI who were newly resettled from Iraq. USCRI is one of nine agencies that place refugees and seek to find a “welcoming community” which may include affordable housing, “friendly” employers, the provision for medical needs, and more. The USCRI has protected the rights and addressed the needs of persons in forced or voluntary migration worldwide and supported their transition to dignified lives for over 100 years.
When interviewed for this blog, Stacie Blake, the USCRI’s Director of Government and Community Relations invited us to be inspired by the courage, resilience and hardworking spirit of refugees and immigrants by sharing some examples:
We can all take these examples to heart and recognize the blessings and privileges we sometimes take for granted in America. We can also be thankful for the sacrifices made by new arrivals: Their influx of optimism and energy is the engine that continues to build the nation.
Stacie pointed out that although today, vocal anti-refugee, anti-immigration rhetoric is stronger than ever before, on the ground, the USCRI is seeing more human interest, grass roots involvement, and support from volunteers.
In fact, they have a volunteer program for locals to help refugees. The volunteer’s role is that of “family friend” and as part of the process, newcomers get to understand “how everything works in America” in a personal way, while Americans broaden their view of the world. Some volunteers bring lots of creativity to the table – like one accomplished musician from Vermont who organized a benefit concert on behalf of refugees.
Volunteering to bring love and support to those in need within our communities is what Tzu Chi is all about. We’re grateful to discover another organization whose activities include promoting a means of grass roots community involvement. So let’s not believe all the negativity in the news media, because compassion and loving kindness thrive in America today.