According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is someone who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
The definition does not include people who have had to flee because of extreme poverty, a natural disaster, or even violence—unless the violence was specifically motivated by a person’s race, religion, or political opinion. This means that even though people throughout the world have well-founded fears due to gang violence and poverty, especially people from Latin American countries with extremely high homicide rates, they do not necessarily qualify for refugee status.
People who leave their homes but stay within the boundaries of their home country are known as “Internally Displaced Persons.”
While some people use the terms “refugee” and “asylum seeker/refugee claimant” interchangeably, the two do have procedural differences. The primary difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker is that refugees are granted refugee status while still outside of the United States, but asylum seekers apply for asylum status once already inside of the United States or at ports of entry into the country. Ultimately, the difference between refugees and asylees is small, and both have the same criteria for admission. For more information on the technical differences between refugees and asylum seekers, explore this fact sheet from Justice for Immigrants.
We don’t have to dig deep in Scripture to find God’s call to welcome the stranger—from warnings that the way that we treat foreigners reveals the state of our relationship with God (Mal. 3:5), to the call to practice hospitality (Rom. 12:13), to God’s oft-repeated refrain to the Israelites: “Love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). Jesus even said that when we welcome the stranger, we welcome him (Matt. 25:40)! Jesus himself was a refugee who escaped with his family from the violence of King Herod for the unfamiliar landscape of Egypt (Matthew 2:13).
For a comprehensive list of Scripture passages that include the call to welcome the foreigner and stranger, visit the Worship Resources tab on the Journey with Me toolkit.
Mary Jo Leddy is the founder of Romero House, a refugee welcome house in Toronto. She writes powerfully about the call of Christ that she hears—--and that we too can hear—--when she comes face-to-face with a refugee in need. She also argues that this experience of “being faced” can call us as individuals, and indeed as a whole church, to become who we are meant to be. You can read an address she gave at the launch of the Journey with Me resource here.
Refugees are the most intensely screened group of individuals to enter the United States. The U.S. resettlement process is the lengthiest and most robust in the world, taking from 18 months to three years and involving five governmental agencies with each case. Learn more about the refugee resettlement process in this one page summary from UNHCR.
Since the creation of the current rigorous refugee-screening procedures established by the Refugee Act of 1980, there has never been a fatal terrorist attack perpetrated on U.S. soil by an individual admitted as a refugee. And the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack by a refugee is about 1 in 3.86 billion per year. Human Rights First explains how refugees actually improve national security in this fact sheet.
Learn more about the refugee resettlement process in Canada from our partners at World Renew.
If a refugee does not provide enough documentation and proof to meet all of the security requirements, they will not be admitted to the U.S. or Canada.
Permanent resettlement to the U.S. and Canada is extremely unlikely for a large majority of refugees around the world. Less than one percent of the 26.4 million refugees today will ever be resettled in what is known as a third country, such as the U.S. or Canada. Most refugees are hosted in countries nearby their country of origin. For example, of the 6.8 million Syrian refugees, about 5.6 million are hosted in neighboring countries. Turkey is currently hosting about 3.7 million refugees from Syria. Lebanon is hosting 855,000, and Jordan is hosting another 668,000. Comparatively, the U.S. welcomed just over 22,000Syrians between 2011 and 2021, and Canada welcomed more than 74,000 between January 2015 and August 2020..
We know that resettlement to the U.S. and Canada is a temporary solution to a greater problem of worldwide violence and persecution and that it reaches only a small number of refugees. It cannot be our primary response to war and persecution. That is why we partner with organizations like World Renew that are working in the regions where refugees come from in order to provide relief and development and to address the root causes of refugee crises. It is also why we advocate for peace-building efforts in crisis regions, aiming to address the root causes why people flee.
However, given the desperate current situations that have left so many with no option but to flee, we believe we can do our part here in the U.S. and Canada by accepting a small portion of the overall refugees, relieving some pressure on allies in neighboring countries who are bearing the most significant weight of the crisis.
Like other immigrants, refugees can create significant economic opportunities for the countries that receive them. While our main reason for welcoming refugees is driven by our faith, the reality is that refugees also bless our countries. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Immigrants have played a crucial role in keeping our country healthy and moving forward. Learn more about the net positive impact immigrants have on our economy in this article from the National Immigration Forum.
For example, reports have found that Syrian refugees quickly integrate and become an asset to the U.S. economy. Syrian immigrants are a highly entrepreneurial group: 11 percent of Syrian immigrants are business owners, compared with 4 percent of immigrants overall and 3 percent of U.S.-born individuals. Not only that, but Syrian immigrant businesses are thriving: the median earnings among Syrian business owners are $72,000 per year. This means they are supporting and growing their local economies and providing employment. You can learn more about these findings in this report.
In Canada, refugees also create jobs. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), refugees create a job for every one they hold. Refugees who have come to Canada in the past have contributed greatly to the country’s economy, including the 60,000 Vietnamese people that Canada welcomed in the 1970s, many of whom arrived without English, French, or job skills that were ready for use in the Canadian market. “But within a decade of their arrival, the former boat people had an unemployment rate 2.3 percentage points lower than Canada as a whole, and relied less heavily on social assistance than the general population. One in five had started their own business.”
The CRC has a long history of welcoming refugees into local communities and congregations—from Vietnamese, to Burmese, to Sudanese, to Syrians. To explore options for your congregation or family to welcome a refugee family to Canada, contact World Renew. To get involved in the United States, contact our partner Bethany Christian Services.
For decades now, CRC members have discovered the face of Christ among those seeking refuge—and the story continues. Read stories of CRC congregations and members all around the U.S. and Canada welcoming, helping to resettle, and being blessed by refugees in our Welcoming Refugees project!
It is important for our elected leaders to recognize and uphold refugee resettlement as a crucial response to those fleeing violence and persecution. Without support from our elected officials in creating just and welcoming refugee resettlement policies, it is difficult to fulfill our biblical call to welcome the stranger and defend the vulnerable. That is why it is so important for people like you to speak up in support of a strong and inclusive refugee resettlement program.
View our four-part webinar on how to talk with your loved ones about Syrian refugees and U.S. refugee resettlement. These videos have been prepared to help in conversations with loved ones at holiday gatherings, but they offer relevant information and tips on how to talk from an informed Christian perspective about refugee resettlement all year round.
The webinar addresses how to respond to these questions and statements: