Jun 20, 2014

Bishops’ Migration Committee chairman urges assistance for refugees



(CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters) 

Staff report

SPRINGFIELD – On World Refugee Day, June 20, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, called upon the U.S. government to do more to assist vulnerable Syrian refugees in the Middle East and to protect the rights of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. 

“The Syrian refugee crisis in the Middle East has reached a point of humanitarian disaster. “Although the United States has provided overseas support to these refugees, other forms of relief, including possible resettlement of the most vulnerable, should be seriously considered,” said Bishop Elizondo,” who is the auxiliary bishop of Seattle.

The United States has only resettled a total of 42 refugees this year, compared to a Syrian refugee population of more than 2 million people, who are mostly in Turkey, Lebanon, northern Iraq and other neighboring countries.

The U.S. national network of refugee resettlement agencies, including the western Massachusetts-based offices of Lutheran Social Services and Jewish Family Services, are willing to help resettle refugees from Syria, and additional refugees from conflict-ridden Iraq. Both offices have Arabic-speaking staffers, and experience in helping new arrivals from the Middle East adapt to live in the United States.

“Go to Main Street in West Springfield and you will find the Bagdad Bakery and Grocery. An earlier wave of refugees from Iraq have already started to establish business catering to their communities, and others.” said Father William Pomerleau, a longtime pastoral minister to refugees and immigrants.

“When and if the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and Washington decides to send some of these folks here, we’ll be ready,” said Father Pomerleau.

The priest’s point seemed clear on June 19, when more than 300 refugees and their friends gathered at the Holy Name Social Center in Springfield on the eve of World Refugee Day, a worldwide celebration of the struggles and successes of the world’s 40 million refugees. Several speakers from various nations spoke of their challenges resettling in a new land, but many among them spoke of their educational and business success.

                   (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

In his national statement, Bishop Elizondo also talked about the current migration of children from Central America as a refugee situation.  As many as 47,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border since the beginning of the year in order to escape violence in their home countries.

“These children are indeed fleeing for their lives and must be looked at through a protection lens, not through an enforcement lens,” said Bishop Elizondo. “We must not send them back if they have valid protection claims.  It would be akin to sending them back into a burning house.”

In making his comments, Bishop Elizondo referred to the World Refugee Day message of Pope Francis, released June 18. In the statement, the pope said that “Jesus was a refugee” and called upon Catholics and others to “alleviate their suffering in a concrete way.”

“As the world’s most powerful nation, the United States has a responsibility to help ‘alleviate the suffering’ of the world’s refugees, including vulnerable children, consistent with the Holy Father’s message,” Bishop Elizondo concluded. “The world looks to the United States as a leader in international refugee protection. We must not shirk this responsibility.”

“I’m proud to say that Greater Springfield has done its part to assist many Central Americans, including youth not living with their parents, in recent years,” said Father Pomerleau.

“Look at Cindy Moran. She came here from El Salvador seven years ago not speaking English. Last week, she graduated from Commerce High as its valedictorian. She had a 3.84 grade point average, and a $60,000 scholarship to attend American International College,” said Father Pomeleau.