Justice Perspective: Desperate conditions, desperate choices

Fri, Dec 18th 2015 01:25 pm
Catholic Charities of Buffalo
Deacon Don Weigel
Deacon Don Weigel

In the span of just over two weeks last month, the ISIS terror network claimed responsibility for downing a Russian passenger jet, carrying out a suicide bombing in Baghdad, deadly explosions in Beirut, and multiple, coordinated attacks in Paris, killing hundreds and wounding hosts of others.

Almost immediately, some federal and state officials, and many who are running for elected office, began to call for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees into the United States. Over half of the governors of the States pledged to halt the entry of refugees into their states, and some officials called for allowing refugees into our country only if they are Christian.

Some time ago, Pope Francis had this to say: "Refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity."

In the wake of the tragic terrorism that gripped the world, the Syrian refugees were now, in fact, being made pawns on a chessboard. In response to the call for suspending the entrance of refugees, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chair of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Migration, issued a statement with even stronger language. After acknowledging that the refugees are fleeing terror themselves and must pass through a strict vetting process before entering the U.S., he said, "Instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees, I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes."

Allowing ourselves to be gripped by fear of the Syrian refugees and blaming them for the attacks in Paris and around the world reveals a serious misunderstanding of who these extremely vulnerable brothers and sisters of ours are.

They walk for hundreds of miles carrying what little they possess, carrying their children, carrying the last shred of hope that they have left as they flee the years of violence and the terror that they came from, arriving at some safe camp physically and emotionally exhausted.

They walk for hundreds of miles and then they walk for hundreds more, through Turkey, on to Croatia, or Serbia, trying to get to some final safe haven - perhaps in Germany or Sweden, or the United States.

They walk for hundreds of miles to find a port where they can hire a boat and a captain to shuttle them across the sea, smuggled in a ship from Libya like contraband, or packed into a fishing boat in Turkey on their way to Greece. And not all boats arrive safely.

These are the Syrian refugees, the people who are the innocent victims of the civil war that has raged in their country for four and a half years. Four million of them have fled the borders of their country, some of them hopeful that the fighting will stop so they can return home, many of them making a new life elsewhere, knowing that even if the fighting stops what they had known as "home" is gone and will not return.

Ending the Syrian conflict peacefully so they can return to their country and rebuild their homes is the eventual goal. Until the time when peace returns to Syria, however, our bishops and Catholic Relief Services are calling for not only continuing to open our doors to these refugees, but to welcome even more to our shores.

As Catholics we must rise above the blaming and scapegoating and join in advocating for them by contacting our elected leaders to let them know that we walk with the Syrian refugees.

Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and is a Global Fellow with Catholic Relief Services.  He may be reached at deacondon@gmail.com.   

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