There are about 65.6 million refugees, asylum seekers and migrants around the world according to the UN Refugee Agency. Beyond this unprecedented figure are stories of people who have been forced away from the security of their own homes and have to find their way in strange, unfamiliar countries.
Who Are Asylum Seekers
An asylum seeker is a person who has fled from their home country because of dangerous circumstances such as war or political unrest. They move to another country seeking protection and the possibility of living there.
Living in a new country can be a frightening experience especially for refugees who have no place that they can call home. They went through indescribable trauma and violence in their homelands, becoming separated from their family, losing loved ones and seeing their homes destroyed.
Most refugees undergo thorough screening depending on the country they are trying to move to. Some of them end up moving through various countries and have to go through rigid evaluation.
Once they arrive in a new country, they face a new set of challenges like adjusting to an unfamiliar culture, language barriers, financial constraints, health problems, and, in worse cases, hate crimes and discrimination.
Countries experiencing an influx of asylum seekers are often put in a tight spot when it comes to deciding whether to grant asylum or not. On one hand, it is understandable that these immigrants are in a desperate need of a safe place to resettle with their families and they cannot be left alone to look after themselves.
On the other hand, there are many risks involved in admitting foreigners, some of them threatening to the lives of the citizens of the country. For example, terrorists may take advantage of the situation and cross borders disguised as a refugee. This legitimate threat has made it challenging for some countries to allow asylum seekers easy entry.
The refugee crisis is complex and may be can be viewed through many perspectives. In a faith perspective, what role do we play in the global refugee crisis? How do we view this predicament in the context of the teachings of the Catholic Church?
What the Catholic Church Says
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35
According to the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church,” Christians have an obligation to the common good and must help provide social conditions vital “for people, either in groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.
He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.This is the greatest and the first commandment.The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 37:40
The concept of the common good is built on solidarity which requires that all individuals work to make life livable for all. Each person has a part to play in promoting the common good more so if he or she is a Christian.
The Bible teaches us that humans are created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore we must treat one another with respect and reverence regardless of their race or religion. We also have a responsibility to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, a command which is said to be the foundation of all other commandments and laws.
The Catholic Church emphasizes that the demands of human dignity must always come before national interest. It teaches us to protect and help innocent victims and those who are fleeing for their lives. Prolonged immigration detention or refusing asylum fail to uphold the Catholic virtues of justice and mercy.
What We Can Do
The refugee crisis is an overwhelming problem and there is no easy and instant solution for it. Our Catholic Faith teaches us to play our individual parts and do what we can even on a personal level.
Here are three simple ways we can do this:
There are many parishes, Catholic groups and foundations focused on providing assistance to refugees. Share your blessings to these groups so that they can better function and help those who are in need.
If you have the time and skills, you may do volunteer work in organizations supporting asylum seekers. Many charitable organizations are built on the selfless efforts of volunteers so every little contribution can go a long way.
When you seem someone who looks like they are from a foreign country, be kind. It’s not easy to be a stranger in a foreign land so smile, greet them and make them feel welcome.