The global migration of refugees was one of the most prevalent topics of debate in the U.S. and Europe in 2016. President Obama set a goal of accepting 110,000 refugees in 2017, infuriating his GOP opponents. President-Elect Donald Trump and Governor Chris Christie have both condemned Obama’s previous plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees. Christie has removed New Jersey from the refugee settlement program, but there are still many groups in the state who are welcoming refugees to a safe haven with open arms. One of these courageous institutions is our own Archdiocese of Newark.
The Archdiocese is beginning to resettle refugees from Syria and other war-torn nations this month. They are planning to welcome at least 51 in 2017. Archdiocese spokesman said, “There is no political agenda there; this is just what the Church does.” Churches from throughout the archdiocese will help with the efforts, with the majority of refugees being settled in Essex and Hudson counties. Retiring Archbishop John J. Myers was a large proponent of the mission, as is his successor Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis. Tobin previously disregarded an order from Indiana Governor turned VP-Elect Mike Pence that barred the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana.
The refugees’ arrival will coincide with Donald Trump’s inauguration. He has said that he would reduce the flow of refugees from Middle East for fear of terrorism, but refugees undergo an intense vetting process that can last up to two years. Trump also controversially pledged to deny entry to the country for all Muslims, but the vast majority of Syrian refugees currently in the U.S. – 93 percent – are Sunni Muslims.
Pope Francis himself has spoken at lengths regarding the resettlement of Muslim refugees. In a period of global turmoil where Islamophobia has become widespread, he said, “I do not believe that it is true or right that Islam is terrorist. I believe that in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists.” The Pontiff also urged every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a refugee family in September. On Christmas, he offered hope for peace in a world lacerated by war and terrorism, urging Catholics to remember migrants and refugees.
The ongoing Syrian Civil War has either killed or displaced over half of the country’s pre-war population. There are currently about 4.8 million refugees who have attempted to flee to neighboring countries, most often Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. These refugees often need to avoid sniper fire or being captured by warring parties who will try to kidnap them to fight for them. Others attempt to flee directly to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea on rubber dinghies and fishing boats, which resulted in over 2,500 deaths in only the first half of 2016.
It is no understatement to say that the Syrian Refugee Crisis is the defining humanitarian crisis of this decade. It is the largest exodus since the Rwandan genocide 20 years ago. Unfortunately, it is also an issue we are so incredibly far removed from. The political rhetoric pertaining to the crisis is disheartening, to say the least. While it is completely reasonable to make national security a priority, we must also not let unwarranted fear prevent us from fulfilling our moral obligation to help our fellow humans.
I personally commend the Archdiocese and other local faith groups for what they are doing. Politically, 2016 was a year that was characterized by fear and isolationism from many leaders around the globe. Within our own country, we seem to be more divided than ever. The resettling of refugees in our area proves that regardless of how different we may seem, we can all work towards progress together. It is heartening to hear this local story as the new year begins, and it is a symbol of hope for a more positive 2017.