As we welcomed in 2018 this month — and the resolutions that came with it — the world finds itself facing its challenge for the year: Staring down the unprecedented numbers of people uprooted from their homes and countries by violence and civil strife, and over 65 million refugees and internally displaced persons suffering as they attempt to simply survive. Even more alarming is that over half of these refugees are children — and 75 percent are extremely vulnerable women and children. We also recognize this month, with a heavy heart, the one year anniversary of the first attempt to ban refugees by executive order.
For decades, the U.S. resettlement program has served as a permanent solution for the most vulnerable among the world’s refugees. Our nation — with its open mind and open heart — has provided safety and refuge for millions of refugees, reflecting the humanitarian spirit that many of the values our great nation have been built upon.
No more eloquently was this essence captured than by Emma Lazarus in her famous poem, "The New Colossus": “…Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
And yet, in the last year, thousands of refugees who were already vetted by the world’s strictest resettlement program and deemed ready to travel have been walled off through administrative barriers, not only dashing hopes of a brighter future for their families — and desperately desired safety for their children — but actively leaving them in harm’s way as well. For some refugees, such as those with urgent medical conditions without adequate treatment in urban settings or camps, that was a death knell. A future for many families that so many of our ancestors strived for came crashing into a locked golden door.
This is certainly not a “golden” moment for our nation, or the world.
In spite of that, last year, the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services welcomed over 450 refugees from 21 countries, serving the most vulnerable populations. Upon their welcome in Utah, these resilient individuals, the majority being women and children, have already started building new lives, sharing their talents and cultures and adding to a nurturing and richly diverse fabric of the Utah ecosystem. In this line of work, the very best of your community comes alive.
Strong partnerships among dozens of providers, including significant support by the Refugee Services Offices at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, has built the capacity to provide opportunities for refugee families to thrive in Utah. Thousands of volunteers have stepped forward to welcome and facilitate the successful integration of these new Americans, in spite of the calls from our nation’s capital to stoke fear and faction.
While each volunteer is offering hope and friendship, mentoring and a sense of belonging, they will be the first to tell you that they are gaining far more from the refugees than they are able to give them. In welcoming 2018, we have a resolution: Arm in arm with our brilliant volunteers and community, we will strive to restore the humanitarian spirit of our nation and once again be the beacon of hope for the oppressed and the vulnerable and a shining example of justice and inclusiveness. It is up to each of us to restore that which has actually made this country great, and Utah has started this year’s promise off strong.