Number of refugees, displaced people at highest since World War II


By Tom Tracy

PALM BEACH, Fla. (CNS) — The explosive global refugee crisis — likely the top
debate-generating news story of 2015 — seems destined to dominate domestic and
foreign politics for years to come at a time when Pope Francis has been calling
for a compassionate world response.

in 2015, Pope Francis again called attention to the plight of mostly Libyan
refugees who perish en route to Europe during the Mediterranean Sea crossing to
the southern Italian coastal island of Lampedusa. The pope has concluded the
year by confirming his intention to visit the Mexico-U.S. border during an
anticipated papal visit to Mexico set for February, an action that will likely
been seen as provocative by some U.S. lawmakers.

of refugees have been fleeing war-torn Syria for new opportunities in the West.
By year’s end a new surge of Central Americans — mainly unaccompanied minors
— crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and entering the United States has added to tensions over accepting newcomers into this country.

deadly terrorist-related shootings this fall in Paris and in San Bernardino, California,
have now further strained refugee response initiatives as top politicians such
as U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are facing
heavy criticism and even open resistance to the resettlement of North African
and Middle Eastern refugees.

Francis’ U.S. visit in September and his newly inaugurated Year of Mercy for
the church worldwide are seen as further teaching moments from the pontiff on
the need for mercy and compassion for migrants and refugees.

number of refugees and internally displaced persons currently in need of
protection is the largest since World War II, according to the Washington-based
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, which serves and advocates for the rights of
refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.

2014, there were almost 60 million refugees and internally displaced people around
the globe, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

mass migration events — including those prompted by unrest in Southeast Asia,
Afghanistan, Colombia and the Balkans — indicate that the current crisis in
the Mediterranean and Middle East may be a decade-long affair with an average
time a refugee remains displaced at around 15 years, possibly longer, according
to Mitzi Schroeder, director for policy for Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.

agency is currently commemorating its 35th anniversary, looking back on the
Indochinese boat and land crisis that led to its founding by Jesuit Father Pedro
Arrupe, then superior general of the Society of Jesus.

experience of responding to that situation led to the establishment of JRS’
triple mission to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of the forcibly
displaced, Schroeder notes.

in the present crisis in the Mideast, the flight of refugees from Vietnam,
Cambodia and Laos was initially large and chaotic,” she told CNS. “Many
died at sea in the process. Many victims of that crisis were never able to
return to their homes, nor were offered permanent protection in the neighboring

a “Comprehensive Plan of Action” was created to guarantee immediate
assistance, temporary protection and permanent resettlement of the Asian
refugees to countries like the United States, which responded by taking in over
a million people: The present crisis similarly requires a broad international
effort to save lives, preserve the human dignity, and find durable solutions,
according to Schroeder, who joined JRS in 2003. Currently, she is chair of the
protection committee of Refugee Council USA, co-chair of the Humanitarian
Partnerships Working Group of InterAction and co-chair of the UNHCR-NGO Urban
Refugees Task Team.

sheer size of the current refugee crisis, the difficulty in reaching suffering
people within Syria because of ongoing war, and the public perception that
terrorists are hiding among the refugees moving to neighboring countries,
Europe and the United States multiplies the difficulty in addressing the

backlash and pushback to resettling Syrian refugees in particular has resulted
in local dioceses and even parishes having to respond to local parishioners who
express no desire to see more Middle East refugees resettled in their community
for fear of harboring terrorists.

believes that those refugees who pass the U.S. screening applied to Middle
Eastern asylum seekers who are chosen for their persecution and vulnerability
to further harm are very unlikely to constitute a threat to the country,
according to Schroeder. Syrians and other refugees seeking entry for purposes
of resettlement are subject to the most rigorous security screening of any
group entering the United States, she added.

screening extends the time they must wait for resettlement to as much as two
years,” Schroeder said, noting that the situation of refugees flooding
unscreened into Europe in a “self-selected” fashion does include many
risks that would necessarily not be in play in the U.S.

silver lining in the crisis is that a greater awareness of the Syrian meltdown
has caused the most stress on neighboring countries in the region and those
countries need continued refugee response support from the rest of the world.
The Syrian refugees in particular are now facing a fifth winter without
adequate food, shelter, heat, medical care or access to education for their

international community has not been willing or able to come up with the
resources needed to support the growing displaced population adequately. How
they would support a vastly increased number of people in so called ‘safe zones’
within Syria, given cost plus the additional logistical efforts that would
entail, I do not know,” Schroeder said in response to calls for keeping
the Syrian refugees closer to home instead of resettling them in Europe and the

addition, Schroeder said the legal implications of establishing such a zone and
the military costs and dangers — especially given the involvement of Russia in
the situation — would have to be very seriously considered.

havens have not worked very well in the past. If the intent is to “contain”
people who have a right to flee under international law, this would be totally
unacceptable,” she added.

one of the most pressing needs of Middle East refugees, both in acute crises
and in protracted situations like Syria, is for education.

can languish for a generation without the ability to rebuild their lives. It is
tragic that during this period refugee children and youth too often do not have
access to education which can sustain hope and provide the tools necessary for
them to grow and thrive as individuals and as a community,” Schroeder

an initiative of the “Year of Mercy,” Pope Francis has asked JRS to
launch a new initiative that will almost double the agency’s present education
programs by providing educational opportunities to an additional 100,000
refugees a year.

already has begun a new effort to increase awareness of the issue of refugee
education, and to raise the resources needed to reach that goal. And even the
enormous Syrian crisis cannot be allowed to divert full attention to other
international refugee problems affecting other populations including the
Rohingya of Myanmar, South Sudanese, the people of the Central African
Republic, and the displaced children of Central America and others, Schroeder

U.S. resettlement program has been one of the most successful means of
protection of refugees ever created, and has brought new life opportunities to
some three million people since its inception, people who are now our friends,
neighbors, family members, and fellow citizens. We should be very proud of
this,” Schroeder said.

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