Imagine you’re sitting at home on a peaceful Wednesday evening, relaxing after a long day at your medical practice. Your children are working on their homework and your husband grades his university students’ papers. Suddenly you hear bombs in the distance, perhaps 2-3 miles away. You recognize that sound; it’s the extremist group you hoped would never arrive at your doorstep. Not only your government but the world’s “great powers” said they wouldn’t let this happen. You’ve heard stories from neighboring villages of how they enslave the women and children, kill the men, and force the boys to fight – all coerced by violence and drugs. Convert or die! Join or be enslaved! If you don’t flee, these are your only choices. Pandemonium ensues as you and your family stuff backpacks with the bare minimum to survive and set out to escape what would otherwise be hell on earth. You drive your car as far as you can safely go and continue your journey on foot. Fear, which has motivated you all the while, drives you to spare no expense, paying smugglers and foregoing your dignity. Along the long journey, you and your family are extorted, threatened, and generally maltreated. Finally, after many months and great risks, you reach Greece. You collapse on the ground as humanitarian aid workers flock to your side. A few days of rest later, you begin the arduous process of seeking asylum – something international law has declared a given in your circumstance. But soon you realize that while you cannot stay in your own country for fear of death and slavery, you are also not welcome anywhere else in the world. The global citizen fears you. Though a very general and mild account, this picture is the reality described to me by those on the move.
Having a clear picture in your mind’s eye of what it is like for refugees, hopefully a little data and current international policy happenings will be easily consumed. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that nearly 100 million people – or 1.4% of the world’s population – are currently caught up in aforesaid situation. Therefore in September 2016, “[t]he UN General Assembly [convened] a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach,” which resulted in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The Declaration “contains bold commitments both to address the issues we face now and to prepare the world for future challenges.” The main take away is that the UN General Assembly has agreed to create two global compacts – common principles and approaches to a particular issue that all participants commit to implement: 1) the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration and 2) the global compact on refugees. Both are to be adopted in 2018.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was involved in the negotiations for the New York Declaration and remains involved in the negotiations for the global compacts, advocating for the following:
Equal emphasis on bringing peace to the origin of mass migration by ending global conflicts, particularly manifest in the Middle East and Africa, as well as providing humanitarian aid to all those on the move indiscriminate of race, religion, or any other factors.
Asylum hearings in a timely manner and the granting of asylum to anyone fleeing from the persecution of war in accordance with Article 14.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sates, “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
Immediate and urgent provisions for the care of unaccompanied minor migrants and refugees, including but not limited to special housing, integrated education, pediatric healthcare, and reunification services.
Reallocation of resources, financial and otherwise, to countries and civil society organizations on the front lines of the refugee crisis.
But what does it all mean? Will this really have an impact? As with all international policy, global compacts are soft law which means there’s no mechanism to keep Member States accountable. In other words, adherence to the agreed principles and approaches is voluntary and, therefore, the success of the global compacts remains in the hands of each individual nation. Subsequently, in democratic countries, the outcome remains with each and every one of us. It is our responsibility and right to push our national, regional, and local governments to implement and adhere to the agreed terms of the global compact. When engaging in this way, the following are some points to keep in mind:
Before taking a position on the matter, reach out and befriend immigrants in your local neighborhood that began their journeys as refugees. As the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras often said, “come let us look one another in the eyes,” before engaging in “business” matters. In other words, it is important to develop relationships with people before attempting to influence laws that will affect their lives.
Thoroughly research the issue via primary and accredited academic sources. Unfortunately, most news sources today are polarized, reporting opinionated facts rather than pure facts. Therefore, they aren’t reliable sources of information.
Call and write your representatives – at the national, state, and local levels – encouraging them to propose legislation in line with international laws and standards regarding migrants and refugees. This will be particularly important in the fall of 2018 once the global compacts are finalized and ratified.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the encouragement of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis, and Archbishop Ieronymos from their Joint Declaration at the Mòria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece: “Together we solemnly plead for an end to war and violence in the Middle East, a just and lasting peace and the honourable return of those forced to abandon their homes. We ask religious communities to increase their efforts to receive, assist and protect refugees of all faiths, and that religious and civil relief services work to coordinate their initiatives.”
#refugeecrisis #refugees #PopeFrancis #EcumenicalPatriarchBartholomew #UN4RefugeesMigrants #UN4refugees #UN4migrants