Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

← News & Stories

September 16, 2016, Rights Reading

By UUSC on September 16, 2016

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

  1. Has Obama Forsaken Central American Refugees?” Franco Ordoñez, McClatchy DC, September 19, 2016

On the eve of a United Nations summit to discuss ways to help the world’s refugees – a meeting some call the “Obama summit,” Franco Ordoñez notes that about 160 advocates and others interested in refugee rights will hold a “Shadow Summit” a few hours in advance, about a mile away in Manhattan, at the Center for Migration Studies. This meeting will focus on the U.S. response to unaccompanied children and families fleeing from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, a violent region sometimes called “the Northern Triangle” of Central America. Other times, it is called “the murder capital of the world.”

Human rights organizations – UUSC among them – have repeatedly argued that the United States is not doing enough for these refugees, at a time when the world’s focus is largely on those escaping war and violence in Syria. Ordoñez reports that the United States has approved fewer than 300 of the 9,500 applications for admission under its child refugee program, and U.S. efforts to enlist other countries to help has only netted a commitment from Costa Rica to accept another 200. All these numbers pale in comparison to the 122,000 children and families apprehended last year. The article notes that the number of those apprehended along the U.S. southern border may set a record this year.

With some members of Congress and other politicians claiming that too many refugees are already being admitted, and that increasing the number is tantamount to placing the American public at increased danger from terrorism, the administration is caught in a tough spot. But, as UUSC has reported previously, the small number of refugees granted admission to the U.S., and the harsh conditions in detention centers where the vast majority of them are held, sets a poor example of U.S. leadership in human rights and refugee protection at a time when the president is advocating for every country to do more.

  1. Would You Hide a Jew from the Nazis?” Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, September 17, 2016.

In his article also timed to draw attention to the gathering of world leaders in New York to discuss the world’s refugee crisis, Nicholas Kristoff draws a number of parallels between the world of “then” – Europe before and during World War II – and “now” – the largest refugee crisis since that terrible war.

He notes the heroic actions of Martha and Waitstill Sharp on the eve of the PBS – Ken Burns special that tells their story, but expands it to include the similarly heroic but ultimately tragic stories of other people like the Ulma family in Poland, or Sousa Mendes in Portugal, who also risked death by helping refugees but were not as lucky as the Sharps were. The entire Ulma family was murdered by the Nazis for their work, and the Mendes family was blacklisted; Sousa died in poverty and disgrace in 1954.

Kristof notes that while the Nazis committed the war crimes, countries like the United States stood by and failed to help Jews and others we knew would be killed, because of the economic burden of caring for so many refugees, or fear that admitting them might allow for the entry of Nazi spies hidden among them.

The same xenophobia and fear of danger from terrorists hidden among refugees allows the United States and other countries to repeat the same mistake of failing to help vast numbers of refugees for either selfish economic reasons, anti-immigrant prejudice, or allowing fear of a small number of people to justify closing our borders to those in need. He closes by quoting Jorge Helft, a holocaust survivor helped by Sousa Mendes, who sees history repeating itself for today’s refugees. “Ninety-five percent of these people are decent, and they are fleeing from death. So let’s not forget them.”

You can build on the legacy of Martha and Waitstill Sharp by participating in UUSC events and actions to defy hate and help today’s refugees.

Read This Next