Making Room—Day 5

This is my dinner as a Syrian refugee in Jordan for Day 5: (see picture above for what I will fry up in a bit of soybean oil later today).

May 7, 2019 article excerpt from The Washington Post:

Under the Trump administration, the number of refugees allowed into the United States has fallen to its lowest level since the resettlement program began in 1980. And few groups have been as affected as Syrians, who have been fleeing a brutal civil war that has left hundreds of thousands of people dead since it began in 2011.

The number of Syrian refugees allowed into the United States in fiscal 2016 was 12,587. In fiscal 2018, the United States admitted 62.

“Syrian refugees are the largest population of refugees seeking resettlement,” said Nazanin Ash, vice president of policy and advocacy for the International Rescue Committee. “Their vulnerability is increasing while U.S. policy is reducing admissions.”

Mariam Rastanawi in the her daughter’s living room in Indianapolis shortly after sunset prayers in late March. (Youngrae Kim/For The Washington Post)

The drop is largely the result of the Trump administration slashing the total number of refugees allowed into the country each year to 30,000, a historic low, and because of enhanced security screenings instituted for refugees from 11 countries, including Syria, that the United States consider threats to national security. The decline has been most precipitous among refugees from Muslim-majority countries, where admissions fell by 90 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to the International Refugee Assistance Project.

That includes countries where the United States has long been involved in military conflict, such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The dining table at Malak Assaf’s home in Indianapolis. The family had been waiting years to get their relatives into the United States as Syrian refugees. (Youngrae Kim/For The Washington Post)

The group said the number of Christian refu­gee arrivals, including members of persecuted Christian groups, has plummeted by 42 percent during the same time period. There has been a 98 percent drop in the number of admitted Yazidis, an ancient religious minority group the United Nations considers victims of an Islamic State genocide. Many Yazidis were killed when the extremist group overran their community in northern Iraq, while others were kidnapped, raped and forced into servitude in Syria. Some Yazidis who have instead sought refuge in Canada have been harassed by their former captors from afar.

Those who work with refugees said further limiting the number allowed into the United States imperils the world’s most endangered populations, denying them a chance at safety in a country that has traditionally protected the persecuted. The number of displaced people worldwide remains at crisis levels: 68 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, and more than 25 million are refugees.

“The message we’ve been sending to the administration is: you’re basically undercutting your entire religious freedom agenda because you’re shutting the door on persecuted people,” said Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, a Baltimore-based refu­gee resettlement organization.

Khaled Assaf and Mariam Rastanawi with their daughter and grandchildren at home in Indianapolis. (Youngrae Kim/For The Washington Post)


Okay, this is LeAnn again…When we are reminded in articles like this one of the many places where xenophobia exists in our country’s policies, how can we respond when we feel our voices and votes haven’t helped in measurable ways? My answer is to first pay attention to the places in my own life where violence still exists. Where prejudice and judgment flare, even secretly…

If I’m not tending to my own hard-heartedness each day in the places I feel it rise—especially toward people who seem to endorse policies I disagree with, how can I expect to bring any wisdom to the larger societal places of violence against “others”? This is not easy work, friends. And yet, I believe we were each born for a time such as this. To be pulled into our own hearts more deeply because of the pain we feel in the world rather than distracting ourselves or trying to ignore the conversations about it.

This is why I believe Jesus was willing to go to Jerusalem to face an unjust death there as a scapegoat for the fearful people of his day: to embrace and engage with the world’s pain and thereby transform it, even as he was transformed. May we all find our way in being little Christs to a world just like his.




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