Investing in lives this World Refugee Day
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Each year, the president provides a report to Congress on the proposed number of refugees to be admitted to the United States in the coming fiscal year. This report is mandated by immigration law and essentially makes the case for who should be resettled in the United States as a refugee. The information includes descriptions of refugee populations, conflicts, and crises as well as analyses of the social, economic, and demographic impact refugee admissions will have on the United States.

Among those mentioned in this year’s report are refugees from Burma, specifically the Rohingya people. In February of 2021, the Burmese military carried out a coup, seizing power and causing more instability amidst the decades-long refugee crisis in the region. The Rohingya are among the world’s largest stateless populations, meaning they do not have a country to call home or a government to protect them or afford them basic human rights. These people have faced unspeakable atrocities. Entire villages were burned, families were separated and killed, and women and girls were raped.

In fact, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the Rohingya as “one of, if not the most discriminated people in the world.” Aziz, a Rohingya youth resettled through Bethany Christian Services, spent three months on a boat after fleeing violence in Myanmar. These are three months that Aziz, just a kid, should have spent in school, playing sports, and being in a loving and supportive home. Hefzur, another youth resettled through Bethany, fled Myanmar at only 11 years old aboard a boat similar to Aziz’s and faced significant abuse.

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Similar dangers threaten refugees in and around the Tigray region of Ethiopia. In November of 2020, armed conflict broke out between the federal and Tigrayan regional forces in Ethiopia, causing nearly 70,000 people to flee to Eastern Sudan. Six months into the conflict, the International Rescue Committee found that rape and sexual exploitation of women and girls were being used as weapons of war across the conflict in Ethiopia. As of May 2021, humanitarian agencies continue to face obstacles delivering basic necessities such as food and water, and over 2 million people are displaced.

The humanitarian crisis in Syria, entering its tenth year, remains one of the largest and most complex crises in the world. More than five and a half million Syrian refugees have lost their homes as hostilities continue across the country. These people, many of them children, watched their homes be destroyed and loved ones die or disappear. Turkey, a country roughly the size of Texas, hosts almost 4 million Syrians, which is more than the total number of refugees the United States has ever resettled.

In addition to ongoing conflicts across the globe, 2020 saw the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bethany Christian Services published a report detailing the ways the pandemic exacerbated the challenges facing refugee and immigrant families and children, including unemployment, evictions, and increased stigmatization because of their refugee status. Developing countries that lack access to clean water or consistent food supply host 85 percent of the world’s refugees. How can a refugee “stay home, save lives” when home is a crowded camp with no running water or a full apartment where social distancing or quarantining is not an option?

World Refugee Day on June 20 is designated by the United Nations to recognize and honor refugees across the world. Refugees are people who fled their homes because of persecution, war, or natural disasters. While the United States has historically led the world in formally resettling refugees, other countries, such as Turkey, host far more refugees. To resettle as many refugees per capita as our neighbor, Canada, the United States would need to increase its resettlement numbers to more than 565,000 refugees each year.

There is no question the United States has the ability and capacity to once again lead the way in refugee resettlement. Congress and the Biden administration should recognize that resettlement is a win-win proposition. Refugees come to the United States eager to work, give back, and build a new life from the ashes of war, conflict, violence, and persecution. The administration should do everything it can to meet the president’s request of resettling 62,500 refugees this year and 125,000 in the next. Congress should pass the Guaranteed Refugee Admission Ceiling Enhancement Act, or the GRACE Act, to ensure the refugee admissions goal doesn’t fall below this number.

With few immediate costs to Americans, the suffering of fellow humans can be alleviated. Is a person’s life ever a bad investment?

Laura McCarter is a Refugee and Immigration Policy Advisor at Bethany Christian Services.