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World Refugee Day: Celebrating Freedom, Recognizing the Persecuted

Jun 20, 2012
Jeff Chenoweth

World Refugee Day, June 20, has arrived without much fanfare or preparation.  It isn’t holiday; rather, it is a day to recognize the plight of people who are forced from their homes and country due to a fear of persecution or death.  Refugees are like you and me until they are confronted with the terrifying choice to flee and live or stay and be persecuted, or worse, killed. 

The New Testament urges us to welcome the stranger – someone not of our midst who is forced to travel in front of us.  Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees as they fled Herod’s wrath and went into Egypt. Refugees need welcoming – a safe welcome back home if the authorities will allow it; a generous welcome in their country of exile if the foreign government will not see them as a threat; and in another country, an often unfamiliar and strange country, if again the government will grant them the refugee visa to travel far and enter a new and permanent home. 

Happily, the United States has a history of welcoming refugees.  It isn’t a perfect history but one that encourages other nations to do their best for the” least of these”.  The U.S.’ refugee program is an example of the public and private sectors working at their best.  The challenge of relocating up to 60,000 refugees a year can’t be done without various U.S. government agencies and private charities like your hometown Catholic Charities working seamlessly together.  CLINIC is dedicated to helping refugees integrate and secure their lives in the United States.

I’m proud to have worked for 26 years for nonprofits serving refugees.  On World Refugee Day, I think of how refugees have enriched my life personally.  I also think of all of my friends who were once refugees when I watch fireworks on July 4th.  It is on that day that I celebrate the freedom and safety the United States has given to my friends who were once refugees.  Join me in recognizing the needs of refugees on World Refugee Day, June 20, and celebrate their hopes on Independence Day.

*Mr. Chenoweth is the Director of CLINIC's Center for Citizenship and Immigrant Communities