9-9-2013By Eleanor Acer
Refugee Protection Program
With Syria’s refugee crisis hitting the 2 million mark, the world’s attention has been focused this week on the plight of men, women and children who are forced to flee their countries in search of protection from violence and persecution. Angelina Jolie, the U.N. Refugee Agency’s Special Envoy, stated last week that “the tide of human suffering unleashed by the conflict has catastrophic implications.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has stressed that the number of refugee children from Syria has now reached 1 million.
Tomorrow leaders of the nation’s foremost refugee assistance and advocacy assistance organizations will head to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to continue the U.S. tradition of protecting refugees who flee from persecution. I am proud to participate in these meetings along with the leaders of distinguished faith-based and humanitarian groups, all of whom are members of Refugee Council USA (RCUSA). The United States has a long history of bipartisan support for refugees fleeing persecution. As a Council on Foreign Relations independent task force co-chaired by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former White House chief of staff Thomas “Mack” McLarty noted, the U.S. commitment to refugees and asylum reflects important American values and “is enshrined in international treaties and domestic U.S. laws that set the standard for the rest of the world.”
The bipartisan approach to protecting victims of political, religious and other persecution was affirmed again this year when the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill that included crucial measures to safeguard refugees from returning to persecution. As Dr. Richard Land and Stephen Bauman, the president of World Relief have pointed out, by strengthening our asylum and refugee systems “the United States will continue to provide refuge to the most vulnerable of immigrants and can carry on a strong tradition of being a humanitarian leader to provide refuge to those seeking safety and a new life.”
During their meetings on the Hill, the RCUSA coalition of faith groups, refugee assistance and human rights groups, which includes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, World Relief, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Episcopal Migration Ministries, and the Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, will urge lawmakers to maintain this country’s longstanding bipartisan commitment to protecting vulnerable and persecuted people. The recommendations include:
- Ensure funding and flexibility for refugee protection and assistance to assist refugees overseas and with their initial reception and placement in the United States;
- Support the extension of the programs that provide protection to those Afghans and Iraqis who put their lives and the safety of their families at risk to work for and support the U.S. Government and Armed Forces, and an extension of provisions that help protect certain Iranian religious minority groups;
- Support the passage of fair and humane immigration reform that upholds and improves protections for refugees and asylum seekers and opposing the SAFE Act, which would have harmful consequences for these vulnerable populations; and
- Champion refugee reform legislation by co-sponsoring the bipartisan Domestic Refugee Resettlement Reform and Modernization Act (H.R. 1784/S. 883), the Refugee Protection Act (S. 1202/H.R. 2185), and the Strengthening Refugee Resettlement Act (H.R. 651).
The groups will also be able to share with congressional offices comprehensive lists of the many safeguards and background checks that are in place in the asylum and refugee systems to counter abuse and exclude from the United States individuals who present a risk to U.S. security.
We look forward to continued U.S. leadership in protecting those who flee from persecution – leadership that is reflected both in U.S. policies abroad as well as here at home in the United States.