This column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on October 22, 2007
At a recent gathering of fellow Presbyterians I learned that foster parents for unaccompanied minor refugees are in very short supply in the San Francisco Bay Area. These are kids under the age of eighteen who have been separated from their families by the chaos of war, and the county where I live–Santa Clara County in California–is among the few places in the United States where such refugee children are being resettled.
My wife and I currently are being trained in the art of foster parenting for a refugee child, and folks tell us we’re crazy, but bringing such a young person into our home seems like a good thing for us to do. After all, if our children ever were alone in a war zone or a refugee camp we would want a family like ours to care for them.
We’re not becoming foster parents for a refugee child because our house lacks people or chaos. We have thee young children and we live in condominium. We are welcoming another child into our lives because—to quote my five year old daughter, Mimi—it’s the right thing to do.
We don’t care where our where our foster child will come from, but I confess I am disappointed by the knowledge that she or he almost certainly will not be from Iraq. Since the United States marched into Babylon six and a half years ago, nearly 2.2 million people have become refugees living within Iraq or in neighboring countries. This, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is more than twenty percent of all refugees worldwide.
Yet for reasons that are inaccessible to my imagination, our nation’s leaders decided resettle just 200 Iraqi refugees last year (that’s less one ten thousandth of the Iraqi refugee population), this despite an admirable and long standing American tradition of welcoming refugees from all over the world.
The State Department has suggested that more Iraqi refugees may arrive on American shores someday, and I hope they do. Welcoming and resettling a significant number of Iraqi refugees would be moral, compassionate and responsible (after all we started the war from which the Iraqi refugees are fleeing). And seems to me that if my family of five can welcome a refugee foster child into our inner-city condo, then a nation as large and as wealthy as our own certainly can come up with a lot more hospitality toward refugees in Iraq.