A Refugee Proposal

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.

6 thoughts on “A Refugee Proposal

  1. It’s so good to hear about your foster care effort to refugee children. Just this day we were called to host our second refugee arrivals by a local Refugee Resettlement organization we helped found some years back. Into our home in a few hours will come a Central African couple who are expecting their first child. It almost sounds Biblical…..there is no room in the Inns in San Diego because of the nearly 500,000 locals who have been evacuated from their homes….while George is reigning in D.C. and Arnold in Sacramento.

    I have a dream that each Christian church in these United States would become a host community for a refugee seeking a new home and family. What a natural outreach that clearly fits our professions of faith. It is also something that we are particularly well-equipped to do: practice hospitality.

    I, too, lament that our State Department has not begun to bring displaced Iraqi’s into the USA. It doesn’t surprise me, however. For years La Jolla Presbyterian church kept asking for Palestinian refugees, only to be told by Church World Service that our State Department didn’t recognize that there were Palestinians who were refugees. This will come as a surprise to the Palestinians who have lived in the camps all over the Middle East for the past 60 years.



  2. Thanks, Ronn.

    I share your dream of churches welcoming refugees, and I look fondly back to the time when Mendocino Presbyterian Church hosted a family of indo-Chinese refugees form Viet Nam. Forming times for me.



  3. Ben-
    Great news to hear. I kinda want to go to my church and ask them to do the same sort of thing for refugees in Boston (of which there are more than a few, as far as I know… a Luthern Church in Southie has a strong reputation with Cambodian refugees.)

    Anyways…. once again I just wanted to say great column 🙂

  4. Thanks Tom. And I don’t know who to root for in the World Series. Ordinarily I really like the BoSox, but the Rockies have the better story, they’re the underdog, and they’re from the NL West. I’m conflicted.

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