Refugees and racial equity – something the U.S. needs to consider
In this commentary, United Church of Christ Associate General Minister Karen Georgia Thompson urges the Biden administration to extend similar protections to other refugees around the globe impacted by violence and persecution.
The Biden administration announced Thursday, March 24, that it plans to admit 100,000 refugees from Ukraine to the United States. This is welcome news. The war in Ukraine has already displaced more than 10 million people, with 3 million leaving the country. As the crisis escalates, that number will continue to climb. The United States joins Ukraine’s neighboring European countries, and others around the world, in opening its borders to ensure safe homes and passage to Ukrainian refugees.
But the announcement brings to light a glaring disparity in U.S. refugee policy. What about the other displaced people around the globe? This year, the administration raised the resettlement ceiling to 125,000 refugees total. That’s a huge increase in the U.S. refugee resettlement commitment – especially since the program numbers dropped significantly during the previous five years. However, as of March 22 only 7,888 refugees have been resettled.
Meanwhile, more than 80 million displaced people are on the move around the world, with some trapped in refugee camps for generations. What happens to them? The majority of the globally displaced are people of color, coming from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. In witnessing the welcoming response to Ukraine and welcoming of Ukrainians, one cannot help but note the European and United States response to white Europeans.
The world saw the racism directed toward Middle Easterners and Africans trying to leave Ukraine. In the midst of the U.S. response to the needs and suffering in Ukraine, we also need to be speaking to global injustices that exist and that are being given a spotlight at this moment. Advocacy on behalf of all refugees, migrants and asylum seekers must accompany our response to Ukrainians.
The Biden administration proposal to admit 100,000 Ukrainians is an appropriate humanitarian response to the current crisis. It respects and upholds the human rights of people whose lives are upended by war. While this response is to be applauded, the U.S. response to other refugee communities experiencing similar challenges must be corrected to mirror the resettlement of Ukrainians. The same outpouring of generosity, compassion, and open borders being shown to Ukrainians should be shown to everyone. This is what an extension of love and hospitality framed with the valuing of human rights, dignity and respect for all looks like.
Our country has separated families, deported people, and refused entrance to refugees. We have trivialized the crises they seek to escape, at times forcibly returning them to a hostile society where their lives are at risk. We have ignored the South Americans and Central Americans who have walked through Mexico because they have economic disparities, closing our borders to them. We have gone as far as saying they don’t belong here.
As we continue to call for justice in a myriad of areas, this too requires our attention. The United States needs to examine and revise its policies that continue to perpetuate racism and discrimination. We must address the plight of the millions of refugees with our commitment to racial equality. We must continue to seek a just world for all.
The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson is the Associate General Minister, Wider Church Ministries and Operations, United Church of Christ. She also serves as co-executive of Global Ministries, the overseas ministry of the UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
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