Tag Archive | refugees

World Refugee Day June 20, 2018

Where do they come from, these human beings who so upset “natives” of many countries who themselves might date to immigrants?

They are escaping from war and persecution in Syria; they are fleeing genocide in Myanmar (Burma), overwhelming resources in Bangladesh; they are leaving El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to escape gangs  — ironically, the same gangs some are accused to being members of, but with no evidence — drugs and rapes; they are among the  millions of displaced people fleeing civil war in South Sudan. Many are displaced from climate catastrophes and/or the inability to care for their families due to the global economy. Who among us would choose to stay?

Rarely do they want to leave their countries, which they love. They leave loved ones, homes and neighborhoods, jobs or professions, native languages, food and culture, because their situations are desperate. They are willing to take any work and face any risk, including death. 

Fear of “the other” sometimes stems from fear that migrants will alter their culture. This is especially ironic if they consider their culture Christian. Welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, loving the enemy are intrinsic to practicing that religion. Stopping criminals in any group is essential, of course, but assuming all immigrants are dangerous is irrational at best.

Migrants and refugees fear for their lives and the welfare of their children. I fear that the Western world is forming a culture of hate and exclusion, where only certain people are valued — or even recognized as humans. The Universe Story affirms that we are all one. Evolution proves the advantages of biodiversity.

Many countries deny refugees entrance, even when groups within the country are eager to practice their religion by caring for them. They are stereotyped and labeled negatively, as governments have done for centuries to justify inhumane actions. The ancestors of many in the United States were stereotyped and labeled when they first arrived. (“Irish needn’t apply,” and so on.) Billions of dollars that could be spent to help them is spent on walls to keep them — and animals and insects that need to roam — out. In a particularly inhumane response, children are separated from parents and kept from families – and getting lost in the system. How would we react if our children or grandchildren were taken from their parents and warehoused?

Like many, I am taking various actions in response. My reaction also overflowed with this poem:

Welcome to America

What happens to interbeing
when policies separate parents from children
whose only crime was escaping
death, gangs, and violence?

What happens to the atoms we all share
making us one? How do they choose
between good and evil when rival groups
are so sure others are wrong?

Scripture is unequivocal:
Care for the homeless,
the displaced, the poor regardless of origin,
regardless of ability to pay.

“See how these Christians love one another”
has morphed to “You can’t come.
You’ll be badly punished if you try.”
Forget “Do unto others….”

Wrong skin. Wrong language. Wrong pedigree.
For you, no refuge, no medical care,
no education, no compassion
despite our need for youth and labor.

The Irish learned they needed
more than white potatoes. Prairie farmers,
seeding only wheat, grew sandstorms.
What happens when we plant mono-life?

Christmas and Migrants

Two Christmas stories ring out for our attention this Christmas season:

#1: We read that Joseph and his pregnant wife were forced from the security of their home in Nazareth because a selfish leader insisted that people travel to their ancestral home town for a census. Mary’s pregnancy exacerbated this disruption in their lives. And when they arrived after their challenging journey, they were turned away until someone (Who? Why? How?) found a spot fit for animals that  they could share.

#2: According to Scripture, after Jesus was born, they had to travel again, this time as refugees fleeing for their lives. They endured the trip to Egypt, possibly not knowing the language, hoping to find fellow Israelites and raise their child in safety even though they were part of an unwanted minority.

Allowing for Bethlehem’s being overcrowded, Egypt’s not wanting foreigners, resources being scarce, and “the other” being judged a threat, one hopes that the travelers found some welcoming strangers along the way.

Since these stories wound up in Scripture (see note at the end), one assumes Mary and Joseph shared them with their son as he grew up. Perhaps they caused Jesus to be more alert to the messages in the Hebrew texts calling for aliens to be welcomed. Perhaps it was these memories that resulted in the famous passage in Matthew:

For I was hungry and you fed me … homeless and you gave me a room ….

This message is not political, nor is it exclusively Christian. Jesus did not belong to a political party nor sign on to “liberal” causes. Forget politics here. Jesus is telling us that caring for refugees is an essential duty, period. This message is in all religions, but practiced by some better than by others. “Nones” also care about other humans. Those who believe that “Nothing is itself without everything else,” as Thomas Berry said, know that we are intrinsically bound to each and every refugee.

How many men, women and children are refugees today? 

First, remember that the numbers consist of real people with real names, loving families, and at least half are children. The total is over 65 million — so difficult to imagine! Comparisons might help: Lebanon has c. 6 million people; NYC has c. 8 1/2 million; the state of California has c. 40 million; Italy has c. 59 million.

What countries accept refugees?

Numbers vary each year, but the top host countries by number of refugees taken are Turkey and Pakistan. The top countries by percentage of their population in 2015 were Lebanon, with c. 210 refugees for every 1000 Lebanese inhabitants and Jordan with 90 refugees for every 1000 Jordanian inhabitants. (The US accepted 0.84 per thousand citizens! Our population is c. 326 million. How many would we take if we were as welcoming as Lebanon?)

Why do people leave their homes?

People flee due to war; famine; religious, sexual, and/or racial persecution; climate-related floods, droughts fires; physical threats from gangs and oppressive governments; stagnant economies. They have no choice but to risk leaving.

What risks must be considered before leaving everything behind?

Before leaving homes, families, work, possessions, language, dreams, religious communities, beloved land — refugees know their travels will be not just difficult but dangerous. Many die. (According to the International Organization for Migration, 22,500  migrants have died or disappeared since 2014.) Women are often raped. People can be sold into slavery and trafficked. Smugglers can take their money and leave them stranded or dead. At best they might face years in refugee camps. Food and shelter can be minimal. Those with “pre-existing conditions” face special hardships and lack of medication. Children lose their childhoods plus adequate nutrition and schooling during their best learning years.

 Possible New Year’s Resolutions

If today you hear a “still, small voice” within, harden not your hearts. Here are some possible actions:

• Ask your members of Congress to accept and support migrant families here in the United States and around the world.
• Support the organizations that help refugees. Three of many:

– UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
       – Catholics Confront Global Poverty (an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services)
– Catholic Refugee Services
• Ask your mayor/ city leader to establish a policy of welcoming those who contribute to the well-being of the city. (For Chicago’s “Welcoming City Ordinance,” see https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press…)
• Pope Francis asked that every Catholic parish be responsible for one refugee family. I am proud to say that my parish — St. Gertrude, Chicago — adopted two Rohingya families that waited eight years in a camp before being accepted in the US. We are eager to adopt more families, but since refugees are officially not welcome in the U.S., our right to practice our faith is denied!

• In January, be attentive to these opportunities to remember migrants and refugees — as well as those trafficked while attempting to migrate:

        January: National Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Month. Also Poverty Awareness.

        Jan. 1: World Peace Day. Pope Francis chose “Migrants and Refugees” as the theme.

        Jan. 7 – 13: National Migration Week

        Jan. 11: National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

        Jan. 17: World Day of Migrants and Refugees

The plight of refugees is not limited to one month, but we can make a difference for them by acting during January.

Note: In the interest of updated theology, I add this excerpt from an article by John J. Collins, professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School: “You have a text in the Book of Hosea that says, ‘Out of Egypt, I have called my son.’ In the Book of Hosea, the son is Israel. It means, ‘I brought Israel out of Egypt.’ If you now look at it, and you say, ‘But God’s son is the Messiah, and the Messiah is Jesus,’ well, Jesus must have been in Egypt, and we didn’t know about it. You get the story of the flight into Egypt, which gets into only one out of four gospels.”

EIGHT REASONS … PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES

EIGHT REASONS TO RETHINK USING PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES: 

About Water

(Statistics vary; I did my best to use generally accepted numbers.)

First let’s rethink the value of water — the gift that dates to the stars and required billions of years to accumulate on our planet. All life (that we know about) started and survived because of it. Presumably, all future humans and species will depend on it. Water plays a key role in religious rituals such as baptisms. Water is essential for growing crops, providing beauty and renewal; it cools us …. Sister Water merits our respect and care!

About Plastic Water Bottles

In 1973,  a DuPont engineer patented polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, the first to be used for bottling water. Its light weight and resistance to breaking seemed advantageous. But would people buy a free product?  Indeed they have, and while it’s sometimes necessary, the rest seems to be nothing but clever advertising and dependence on convenience. What follows applies to all plastic bottles, but focuses on water because there are easy alternatives.

Even Pope Francis has asked us to reduce use of both plastic and water. From Laudato Si’:

There is a nobility to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption  ….. (par. 211)

Here are eight reasons to rethink the use of plastic water bottles:

1. You testify that drinking water is a human right, not a for-profit commodity —

Water is absolutely essential in maintaining human life, and nothing can substitute for it. On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights. ( Resolution 64/292)

2. You save the water used to make plastic bottles — 

For a true water footprint, consider all freshwater used in production: water used for drilling the petroleum for the plastic, water used in production, water used making packaging. It takes a minimum of 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water, but amounts could be up to six or seven times greater when everything is considered.

3. You save the water put into the bottles — 

Activists throughout the world strongly object to having their water bottled and sold back to them. The damage to their loved locales cannot be repaired. Companies take scarce water and sacred water. It’s a matter of justice! There are 50 billion water bottles consumed every year, about 30 billion of them in the U.S. Do the math.

4. You save the energy used to make and transport plastic bottles — 

Producing, packaging and transporting a liter of bottled water requires between 1,100 and 2,000 times more energy on average than treating and delivering the same amount of tap water, according to the Pacific Institute. Scientists of the Pacific Institute estimate that just producing the plastic bottles for bottled-water consumption worldwide uses 50 million barrels of oil annually—enough to supply total U.S. oil demand for 2.5 days. We all know how fossil fuels damage our climate.

If you imagine that every bottle of water you drink is about three-quarters water and one-quarter oil, you’ll have a pretty accurate picture of how much energy it takes to put that bottle of water in your hand.

5. You prevent pollution from bottles which, even if recycled, take years to disintegrate — 

There is no “away” to throw things to. About 13 percent of empty bottles are recycled, where they are turned into products like fleece clothing, carpeting, decking, playground equipment and new containers and bottles. (Three cheers for the companies that do this!)

The bottles not properly recycled end in landfills or in the ocean. Those fragments absorb toxins that pollute our waterways, contaminate our soil, and sicken animals. Plastic trash also absorbs organic pollutants like BPA and PCBs. They may take centuries to decompose while sitting in landfills, amounting to endless billions of little environmentally poisonous time bombs.

Plastic bottles and plastic bags that break down into smaller fragments over time are the most prevalent form of pollution found on our beaches and in our oceans. Every square mile of the ocean has over 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it! Millions of pieces of plastic debris float in five large subtropical gyres in the world’s oceans. But even more plastic might be on the oceans’ floor, doing damage we can’t yet study.

“Besides providing food and raw materials, the oceans provide various essential environmental benefits such as air purification, a significant role in the global carbon cycle, climate regulation, waste management, the maintenance of food chains and habitats that are critical to life on earth.” (from Cardinal Turkson’s recent statement to the United Nations)

6. You protect fish, birds, and humans from effects of plastic pollution —

Birds and their young die from eating and being strangled by plastic debris in oceans and on land strewn with plastic pollution. These ingested chemicals can then affect humans when we eat contaminated fish. Not only are we severely harming the land, air and water around us, but the rest of the world has to pay the price for our thoughtless over-consumption. Our children and generations to come will be dealing with the problems we caused.

7. You avoid the toxins that is in, and can leach from, plastic bottles — 

BBC reports that a 2018 study of several brands of plastic water bottles found that 93% of the water was contaminated with micro plastics. It’s not a question of best brands; the plastics are everywhere. Another study, by CertiChem, found that more than 95 percent of the 450 plastic items tested proved positive for estrogen after undergoing sunlight, dishwashing, and microwaving. Even BPA-free products tested positive for released chemicals having estrogenic activity.

8. You save lots of money!

And so

Where safe drinking water is not available due to scarcity or pollution, plastic water bottles are needed. Otherwise, to protect the future of our beloved (and only) planet, our water and food supply, our climate, our oceans — use a thermos with tap water. Many varieties of faucet filters and pitcher filters exist. Group events can supply pitchers of water and glasses — or drinking stations with compostable cups. Some cities, universities, stores (e.g., Selfridges) and tourist areas (e.g., the Grand Canyon) have banned the sale of bottled water; some supplied drinking stations. Alert those who are unaware. To quote Pope Francis again: There is a nobility to care for creation through little daily actions.