The statistics are mind boggling:
- Nearly 50 million children are refugees or migrants (uprooted from their homes because of violence, poverty, or other factors out of their control).
- 28 million are child refugees who have fled conflict. An additional 20 million fled their homes in search of better lives.
- More than 50% of refugees are children, nearly half of these from Syria and Afghanistan.
- The number of child refugees has jumped by 75% in the past 5 years. Today, 1 of every 200 children is a refugee.
- Women are heads of households in one in three families in Syria.
- Lebanon is now home to over 1.3 million registered refugees from Syria, 80% of them women and children, of whom many are widows or wives of the “disappeared."
It's a given that life is much harder for widows and children...unemployment is rampant in war-torn countries, and it's much harder for women to find jobs (and take care of their families).
Today I was inspired by the story of Chanpone Sinlapasai, featured on the front page of our Sunday Oregonian. Sinlapasai arrived in Oregon as a small child (see photo above), after her family fled from the communist takeover of Lao. Now a lawyer, she has dedicated her life to helping immigrants and most recently, refugees like she once was herself.
In Oregon, Catholic Charities has run a refugee-resettlement program since the 1940s, serving over 15,000 immigrants per year. Sinlapasai has been working with a group of lawyers and Catholic Charities to greet and support refugees as they arrive at Portland International Airport. She recalls her family's own terror upon arrival, when the pastor who had sponsored them was a no-show, and no one in the airport spoke their language. "For refugees, landing in the United States may be the best day of their life. It can also be among the most traumatizing. So much is new and inscrutable."
Since the latest travel ban was enacted (banning refugees from resettling in the U.S. for 120 days), Catholic Charities has had to cut its budget and lay off staff, and Sinlapasai will no longer be meeting refugees at the airport. Our country is turning away the most desperate people of all, shutting our doors and rejecting those on the margins. And to realize how heartless many Americans have become, all you need to do is read the comments on the OregonLive.com website. (Surely, they do not reflect the majority of Americans; just the awful ones.)
I thank God for people like Chanpone Sinlapasai, restoring my faith in humanity!
Read more of my "I Was a Stranger" entries here.