The news of the possible elimination of the United States’ refugee resettlement program has appalled Americans across the country. But this is not the only policy that should be met with scrutiny and opposition. The United States also recently introduced a policy barring asylum for people, including unaccompanied children, who transit through a third country to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
As a result, many asylum-seekers could end up losing their lives for their faith.
Afghanistan, Burma, Central African Republic, Iraq, Sudan and Syria have been identified by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as some of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. They also produce some of the largest refugee populations.
Protections for refugees should not be limited to the first country in which they first seek safety, as the United States has decided. Countries of first asylum are oftentimes neighbors to the countries from which refugees are fleeing and are also susceptible to instability. Turkey, Sudan, Pakistan and Iran host some of the largest refugee populations in the world but are also among the worst violators of religious freedom. The location of a country, its proximity to another and sharing a border are fundamental components of international and regional conflict.
Even if the economy or social stability of a neighboring country is not immediately impacted by the situation or conflict that is causing people to flee, the country will soon be impacted by an influx of refugees, which inevitably leads to new pressures and tension. Eighty-four percent of refugees live in developing countries, often struggling to sustain themselves and those seeking refuge. Colombia has taken in thousands of Venezuelans while it is still recovering from its own civil war. The GDP-to-refugee ratio in Uganda is 41 refugees per $1 million, whereas the GDP-to-refugee ratio in the United States is a mere 0.02 per $1 million.
Limiting refugees to countries of first asylum also leaves people fleeing religious persecution at risk. When a group of people leave their home for another, they become strangers in a new land. As strangers, they can be welcomed — or they can be ostracized and even persecuted further. The economic and social strain an influx of refugees can place on countries of first asylum can easily create a hostile environment for refugees. With the average protracted refugee situation lasting 26 years, it is vital that we seek durable and long-lasting solutions that extend beyond food rations and tents.
The Bible has much to say about welcoming the stranger and loving our neighbor, regardless of how many borders they crossed before they reached ours. According to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, we should not reserve our help for others based on their religious beliefs or the color of their skin. Philippians 2 explains that when Jesus came, he didn’t simply cross a street, but, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.”
Today, He commands us to go and do likewise. Our nation has long been a beacon of safety, hope, and freedom, and we cannot turn away from the values that made us that place of refuge.
Laura McCarter is a refugee and immigration policy adviser for Bethany Christian Services.
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