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Home / Press Release / Pope Francis Urges Americans to Protect, Accept Refugees
September 24, 2015

Pope Francis Urges Americans to Protect, Accept Refugees

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged the president and U.S. lawmakers to heed the calls of Pope Francis and take steps to meaningfully address the global refugee crisis. In his address before a joint meeting of Congress today, the Pope urged America to respond as best as it can, with humanity, justice and compassion, to the plight of refugees and immigrants.

“The United States has always been a global leader on the protection of refugees,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Pope Francis’s address today serves as a reminder of that legacy, and a call to action to treat others as we would like to be treated. The president and Congress should seize this opportunity to lead by example and treat refugees and immigrants with compassion. Instead of being fearful of the numbers and fearful of foreigners, whether from Syria or Central America, the United States should provide refuge—life, security and opportunity—to those who flee from persecution and violence.”   

As the Pope noted today, the world is facing a refugee crisis unlike any other since World War II. The United States’ response to this crisis falls far short of what is needed to adequately address this challenge. In urging Americans to treat refugees with compassion and humanity, Pope Francis stated, "if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” 

Since the beginning of the war in Syria, the United States has resettled just only about 1,500 Syrians. According to the United Nations, more than 4 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Many of these refugees have been stranded for years in neighboring countries where they cannot work or support their families, have little access to education, and lack the level of humanitarian assistance they need. The United Nations' global humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is only 38% funded, and food assistance has been cut. Without meaningful access to resettlement in other safe countries, many are turning to dangerous routes to reach places of safety where they can rebuild their lives. 

Human Rights First, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jewish and other faith groups, and former government officials from both political parties have called on the United States to increase its resettlement of Syrian refugees to 100,000 in fiscal year 2016.  This should be accompanied by an increase of the total ceiling on refugees to 200,000.  

On our own Southern border, thousands of women and children have escaped violence and persecution in Central America, only to be placed in family detention facilities. Human Rights First researchers have found that detained families continue to face obstacles to release such as unjust release policies and lack of counsel. Some families have been blocked or delayed from release for weeks or months.  Many families detained at do not have legal representation that is crucial to navigating the complex immigration court system.

“As Pope Francis reminded us today: we are a nation of immigrants,” said Acer. “It is now up to us to ‘not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeking their faces and listening to their stories.’ Instead of sending families fleeing Central America into immigration detention, the administration should heed the Pope’s call and treat them with humanity, justice, and compassion.”

For more information or to speak with Acer, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.