On Monday’s World Refugee Day 37 refugees became citizens at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. They fled to this country from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Liberia, Mauritania, Nepal, the Philippines, Russia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, and Vietnam. There, in our nation’s capital, at the Holocaust Museum, they stood and pledged their allegiance to the US.
It was a remarkable testimony to what it means to be a nation of immigrants. It was especially fitting that the ceremony took place at the Holocaust Museum. We know too well that the nations of the world, including the US, were silent in the face of the Nazi genocide and by and large turned their back on fleeing Jewish refugees.
These new citizens were embraced and welcomed by Holocaust survivors. Their words of what it means to be a US citizen, and most especially what citizenship meant when fleeing the ravages of World War II, can be watched online. I urge you to take a few moments to watch this brief video. Remind yourself about what is so remarkable about our country.
Today there are 65 million refugees. 51% are children. More than half fled the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. It is estimated that 12.4 million people were displaced last year alone. For years we have in particular allowed the Syrian conflict to fester, producing untold human tragedy and straining Europe’s borders.Leon Wieseltier, the child of Holocaust survivors and refugees, recently observed:
I also learned that refugees are people who have felt abandoned by the world. It is a terrible, terrible feeling I can report, as the son of people who felt abandoned by the world. And all the rescue efforts, and all the resettlement efforts that will be made, and God knows, there are very, very few for us to boast about, will not erase, ever, that feeling that at some point the world abandoned them.
Given our history we should be sensitive to the plight of refugees. Our experience of wandering should make our hearts one with strangers. Our recent history of persecution and slaughter should call us to reach out to the stranger.
That is the import of the Bible’s command: “There shall be one law for you, whether stranger or citizen of the country.” (Numbers 9)