The events of the past week have truly rocked civilized peoples of the world to the core. For many Parisians, it was just another Friday night; some decided to attend a soccer game; others made plans to have a quiet dinner at a favorite restaurant; while other people went to hear a concert.
However, as the world knows, this was no ordinary night. An evening of tranquility quickly turned to chaos. “The City of Light” was suddenly darkened, and what would happen next was uncertain.
The same group wreaking havoc across the Middle East brought its terror to the streets of the French capital. Yes, the Islamic State of Syria (ISIS) struck at the heart of Europe by hitting key soft targets in an attempt to inflict as much pain and suffering as they could. They place no value on human life as they are willing to sacrifice their own lives in the name of a very twisted and perverse ideology.
What began as peaceful protests against the Syrian government in 2011 rapidly shifted to a violent insurgency. In its wake, the world is left with the decision of what to do next. One of the unintended consequences of this conflict is the mass exodus of refugees flowing across the Syrian border into neighboring states, like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. These countries are now burdened with caring for the many innocent victims of this violence.
How will the international community handle the millions fleeing the conflict and persecution seeking safe haven? The events of November 13th in Paris has sent shockwaves across the world, especially here in the United States. Given what just took place, these fears are well-founded. The news of a terror suspect finding his way to the U.S. masquerading as a Syrian refugee prompted 31 state governors to pronounce they would not accept refugees.
The House of Representatives followed suit by passing legislation on November 19th increasing the level of screening on refugees from Syria. In addition, based on reporting from The New York Times, the bill requires "the director of the F.B.I., the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence confirm that each applicant from Syria and Iraq poses no threat."
The debate will continue to rage as to who will accept refugees and who will not. In the meantime, these people need to be cared for and the U.N., as it usually does in such cases, has taken on this responsibility.
The U.N. steps up to provide for those in need
On December 14, 1950, the U.N. General Assembly established the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Shortly thereafter, on January 1, 1951, the UNHCR’s work began as it laid out its plan to care for the European refugees during World War II.
Today, their task is not much different. Politics is set aside as their sole mission is responding to urgent humanitarian crises; they have been doing this quite effectively for over sixty years.
As they are led by former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres, UNHCR faces unprecedented challenges of peoples displaced by war, conflict and persecution. UNHCR has three core goals in assisting displaced peoples of the world.
The goals are:
Saving livesRestoring hopeFinding home
First, saving lives is of paramount importance. When people are uprooted from their homelands, they leave with nothing. It is now a question of survival, and UNHCR provides the basic necessities of life: food, water, shelter, medical care and, of course, security. Time is of the essence in such crises and the staff of UNHCR responds to them in a moment’s notice.
Second, restoring hope to those fleeing violence. After meeting the survival needs of refugees, UNHCR now focuses its attention on keeping the refugees safe and secure while seeking the best possible solutions for them. Following the cessation of hostilities, the refugee problem does not disappear; to the contrary, it is now just beginning.
There are a number functions UNHCR provides for refugees while it seeks a long-term solution to their situation. It helps governments in the protection of the refugees; assists asylum-seekers confronted with deportation; “monitors borders and detention facilities”; continues to provide the basic care they require, including education.
Third, finding home. Of course the goal for all is to make their way home once it is safe to do so. If they cannot be repatriated, UNHCR will assist them to find a home in another country. UNHCR goes the extra mile for peoples of the world who have been displaced from their homeland through no fault of their own. Lady Liberty is still welcoming in the harbor Those famous words written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 are still inscribed on the Statue of Liberty that stands in New York harbor. The words still appear on Lady Liberty, but do they still garner the same significance? “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Based on the rhetoric emanating from individuals of all political persuasions, one has to wonder.