Remember refugees are fleeing for their lives, urges US bishop

(Photo: © UNHCR / I. Prickett)Refugees and migrants arrive in Greece on flimsy boats after crossing treacherous seas to Greece mostly fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in September 2015.

The number of displaced people in the world is at its highest and a U.S. bishop is urging Catholics to remember that "extremely vulnerable" refugees often flee circumstances where their very lives are at risk.

"People often forget that the Holy Family themselves were refugees fleeing into Egypt," Bishop Eusebio Elizondo Almaguer, auxiliary bishop of Seattle, said in a statement for National Migration Week, observed from Jan. 3 to 9.

"Likewise, refugees around the world, all of whom are extremely vulnerable, are fleeing for their lives," noted the chair of the U.S. bishops' committee on migration. "As Catholics, we are called to welcome and support these families who also need our help."

The United States' Catholic Bishops Conference says in a statement, "In the Gospel of Matthew (25:35) Jesus tells his disciples, 'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'

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"The call to welcome the stranger plays an important role in the lives of faithful Christians and has a particularly central place for those of us who work in the migration field."

From Baltimore, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service expressed grave concern about the recent announcement by the administration of President Barack Obama that it will begin deporting unaccompanied children and families who came to the U.S. last summer seeking protection and asylum.

In recent days, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has taken more than 100 people into custody, primarily in the states of Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina.

FAMILIES TARGETED FOR DEPORTATION

"LIRS's primary concern is that some of the families targeted for deportation have valid claims to asylum, or are otherwise deserving of humanitarian protection, but exhausted the legal process in a system that is unfairly stacked against them.

"Many families face severe challenges in successfully navigating the United States' complicated immigration court system without access to adequate legal representation or adequate notice of the court date," said the Lutheran service.  

U.S. Catholic bishops National Migration Week 2016 poster.

"At the heart of our concern are the extremely dangerous conditions in the Central American countries from which these families escaped. Over 80 U.S. individuals who made it to the Unites States from this region have reportedly been deported to their deaths in Central America since 2014."

The theme of National Migration Week 2016 is "A Stranger and You Welcomed Me," Catholic News Agency reports.

It focuses on the Syrian refugee crisis, in which more than 4.1 million people have fled the country since 2011 due to the civil war in which rebel groups are pitted against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad's.

To observe the week and raise awareness about the plights of migrants, the migration committee has provided prayer resources, including Mass intentions for migrants and civil leaders.

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It includes prayers to St. Juan Diego and St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese-born nun who was sold into slavery as a young girl.

Some of the committee's policy recommendations for the Syrian crisis include the U.S. sending development aid to surrounding countries overwhelmed by the number of refugees. It also wants an increase in the yearly intake of Syrian refugees by preparing to accept 100,000 every year into the United States.

The number of persons displaced is at the highest ever recorded - 59.5 million at the end of 2014, says the United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR.

It has seen its largest jump in a single year, up from 51.2 million displaced in 2013 and 37.5 million a decade prior. Conflict in Syria is the biggest cause of the increase in migration, the UNHCR claimed in its 2014 Global Trends Report: World at War.

Half of the refugees were children, and only 126,800 returned to their home countries in 2014, the report noted.

Syrian refugees' banner of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, January 2016.
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