Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2016 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- Catholic advocates are praising the U.S. for hosting an international refugee summit, but insist the administration can do more to address an unprecedented global refugee crisis. “We are very pleased at the historical role that the United States government has played in welcoming more refugees than any other country,” Jill Marie Gerschutz Bell, the senior legislative specialist for Catholic Relief Services, told CNA in an interview.
“We’re pleased that the president has called a summit of other host countries. But we want to see the president do more, particularly for the unaccompanied children and young people coming to the United States,” she added. “If we’re going to ask other governments to abide by our moral and legal obligations, we need to make sure that we are too.”
Officials from Catholic Relief Services will be attending the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees hosted by President Obama Sept. 20 in New York City, just after a United Nations refugee summit. Leaders from around the world are expected to meet and pledge to provide for the needs of refugees around the world.
“There are too few countries around the world that are bearing a significant burden in the form of hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, even millions of individuals who fled their home country to try to avoid violence,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest explained in a Thursday press briefing. “And there's more that the international community and that the world must do to help those countries bear that burden.”
Over 65 million people are estimated by the UN to be displaced right now, the highest number ever recorded. Half of all refugees are children, with sectarian conflicts and government persecution as some of the leading causes of mass migration.
Thus, Catholic Relief Services, which provides aid to refugees around the world, will be at the summit pushing for the international community to do more for refugees. As “part of a broader group” of humanitarian aid organizations, CRS has “jointly pledged” with them to invest $1.2 billion into refugee assistance. It’s “private money,” Bell told CNA, from “Catholics in the pews, largely.” It’s “because they believe that we are called to welcome the stranger, just as Pope Francis repeatedly reminds us.”
“The Church has taken very seriously this call to welcome the stranger and to provide assistance,” Bell said. The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst in terms of scale, but CRS has been helping “the more forgotten refugees” like from sub-Saharan Africa and Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.
Catholic Relief Services would like to see some changes in the “architecture” of refugee assistance since the world is largely operating on a structure from just after World War II, Bell said. “The humanitarian architecture has not kept pace with this increase in individuals,” she said, adding that “more refugees live in cities than in camps today, and they are living there longer than they ever have before.”
When asked what specifically could change, Bell noted that the United Nations should “focus more on coordination” and on “speeding up its response.” Governments, meanwhile, should be “providing access to livelihoods and education in host countries” to ensure refugees are not dependent upon humanitarian assistance in the long-run and can begin to support themselves.
“Most people don’t want to live that way” she said of dependency on aid. Refugees can “give back to the country that’s hosting them” and establish a “relationship of mutuality” if given the chance. Another area that needs addressing is “psycho-social support” for children who have “suffered extreme trauma,” Bell insisted, noting that “there’s not a lot of government funding” for it. “The Church is a real light to these children,” she insisted.
The Obama administration has recently announced that it will aim to increase the number of refugees it will accept to 110,000 in fiscal year 2017. Bell praised the administration’s pledge, but cautioned that Congress will need to make sure refugee resettlement will be properly funded, “because the present bills do not have all the funding that are needed.”