Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio CEO Ted Bergh reflects on the plight of refugees as we prepare to celebrate their courage and perseverance on World Refugee Day.
World Refugee Day is June 20 and the world is still awash in refugees. Wars rage on causing more people to flee their homes in search of safety for their families. There are 34,000 more displaced people every day. Sadly most are women and children who leave their homes with the few possessions they can carry. There are 65.3 million displaced people in the world and 21.3 million people waiting in refugee camps for a safe place to live and a better future for their children. These are record levels and continue to get worse.
Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio has received more than 12,000 refugees in the 40 years since the Vietnam War. We are thankful for the welcoming community around us that stepped up to provide the volunteers and resources necessary. These refugees came from all over the globe to start new lives and to be part of the American Dream. Through their contributions migrants make our country better and stronger. This has been true since our nation’s founding. We are all migrants. To be human is to be a migrant. Our country was built on welcoming the distressed, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” (Statue of Liberty poem.)
Catholic Charities is the largest provider of refugee and immigration services in the region. It is part of our core mission to serve the poor, welcome the stranger and protect the vulnerable. We have been successfully working with immigrants for over 100 years. Compared with other human services programs this is hard work. We could not do this without a dedicated staff, gifted volunteers and community groups that provide essential services. It is a full community effort to make this program successful. While we do even more to serve the poor and protect the vulnerable through other services, welcoming the stranger is fundamental to our faith.
It is disappointing to report that after 40 years of welcoming refugees, Catholic Charities as of today has only two families on route here. We expanded our capacity last year to be able to welcome 450 refugees in 2017 to do our share at resettling a record number of refugees in the world. The community also stepped up its support. Now due uncertainty in planning for arrivals, the future of the refugee program is in question.
We hope that more refugees will be arriving soon. The suffering of refugees waiting to find a home and resume their lives should not be allowed to continue. We are trying hard to find a way to keep our staff and maintain the capacity to welcome refugees when arrivals return to prior levels. The United States was once the leader in the world for receiving refugees and we hope this distinction is revived.
For we believe that we are privileged to welcome and serve the refugees who have lost their homes and way of life. Doing this is a reaffirmation of the core values of our faith and our country. We are truly blessed to be in this community that is so supportive of the work.