Who’s Really Welcome? Our Compassion for Ukrainians Shouldn’t be Exclusive to Just Them
Global Support for Ukraine
Last week, the White House announced a plan to admit up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to the United States. This was a welcomed announcement given the increasing numbers of Ukrainians arriving to Poland, Romania and other European nations.
This policy has been one of many successive policy decisions by President Biden to show solidarity and support to the Ukrainian people, including granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainians who were already living in the U.S.
At World Relief, we celebrate these policy decisions and commend the global outpouring of support for Ukrainians who have been displaced by war.
In Romania, people have come together to set up mobile camps with tents, beds and electricity to house and care for Ukrainians who have crossed the border into their country. Similarly, Poland has received more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees into their country and is looking for ways to provide some sort of legal status for them to remain in Poland.
And yet, we still hope for more. Not only do we want there to be a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine and for people to safely return home, but we also want to see greater solidarity shown for other people who have been displaced by the injustices of war and conflict and who are not receiving equal amounts of the world’s attention.
The Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since WWII
Before the conflict in Ukraine, the world was already facing the worst displacement crisis since World War II.
Women and men from places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Afghanistan, Honduras and other countries have been experiencing displacement, sometimes for decades. Many seek refuge in neighboring countries but are often turned away at the border, facing scorn and disdain rather than welcome and assistance.
As I’ve read the news over the last few weeks, I’ve often wondered — what would Americans do if millions of people arrived at our borders? How would we respond?
Would our government commit to recognizing the protection needs of those fleeing conflict and provide legal status for those seeking safety? Would American citizens support that decision? Would our churches and communities be ready and willing to show up at train stations with blankets, strollers and other necessary supplies?
The truth is, similar situations have happened in our country before, and are still happening now.
The U.S. Response to Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Just this past fall, 16,000 women, men and children — mostly from Haiti — set up camp under a bridge near Del Rio, Texas, hoping to seek asylum in the U.S. Many of these families and individuals have since been returned to the countries and dangerous situations from which they fled.
Additionally, thousands of individuals from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have fled conflict and violence in their home countries only to be turned away from the U.S. border under the guise of Title 42.
Title 42 is a public health order that has prevented legitimate asylum seekers from finding protection in the United States due to public health concerns around the spread of COVID-19. Nevertheless, the President opted to exempt Ukrainians from this public health order, allowing Ukrainians to cross into the United States to find safety while others are still being turned away.
At World Relief, we have often said that compassion and security need not be mutually exclusive, and that belief holds true today. While the situation in Ukraine may seem different because one sovereign nation is invading another sovereign nation, the consequences of vulnerability are the same.
When people feel unsafe in their homes and their own governments are not able or are unwilling to protect them, they are forced to flee and need to be afforded equal protections and processes according to international law.
What’s more, our own personal attitudes of welcome and hospitality should not change based on someone’s country of origin or the reasons for which they have fled.
Whether someone is from Ukraine, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan or Burma, our welcome as followers of Jesus should be rooted in a radical hospitality that allows all those who experience violence suffering, and war to find a place of peace and safety wherever they are.
Let’s Build Something New
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is just the latest in a series of wars and conflicts that have fueled the greatest global refugee crisis since at least World War II.
We need to rebuild a robust, nimble U.S. refugee resettlement and asylum processes that can welcome the persecuted from various parts of the world — including those who have fled similar conflicts to that in Ukraine but have garnered less media attention or been largely forgotten in the U.S.
This includes committing to resettle large numbers of vulnerable Afghans, Sudanese, Congolese and Burmese in addition to the 100,000 Ukrainian refugees the U.S. committed to accepting.
We must also ensure our asylum laws offer protections to those of any nationality who reach the U.S. and can demonstrate a credible fear of persecution. If the President can exempt Ukrainians from an outdated public health order that is turning away people at the border from seeking asylum, he can also rescind the rule so that anyone who seeks asylum can find protection in the United States, regardless of nationality.
For those of us who follow Jesus, we have a calling from Christ to lean into the brokenness of this world to offer a better way and an eternal hope. Jesus left all of his privilege to be with us who are broken and to reconcile the world to himself, and we must do the same.
We all long for solutions that will end the conflict in Ukraine. But perhaps the biggest difference we can make right now will happen in our own communities and in our own homes as we welcome refugees and asylum-seekers and extend hospitality to them.
Moving Forward with Compassion
As the spotlight eventually fades from Ukraine, and as other humanitarian crises inevitably arise, my hope is that the solidarity and support we have shown for Ukrainians will extend to others who are facing similar circumstances.
I hope that the church would not grow weary of doing good. We, as global citizens, are coalescing around common support for the people of Ukraine, and I hope this will also translate into care and concern for refugees and asylum seekers everywhere — especially those that are arriving at our own borders — regardless of where they come from.
Refugees, no matter where they’re from, are people. They are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters grieving the loss of their home and searching for a safe place to rebuild their futures. We are called to respond to all those who are suffering the consequences of violence, political upheaval, poverty and more.
Together, we can respond with compassion, joining hands with those who have experienced displacement and working together to build a better world.
Learn more about how you can support refugee and displaced communities here in the u.s and across the globe.
Jenny Yang is the Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief where she provides oversight for all advocacy initiatives and policy positions for the organization and leads the organization’s public relations efforts. In this position, she coordinates and leads the marketing, programs, and strategic engagement division teams on media relations, public engagement and brand elevation strategies. She also represents the organization’s advocacy priorities to the U.S. government and leads mobilization efforts for churches on advocacy campaigns. She has worked over a decade in refugee protection, immigration policy, and human rights and was on an active deployment roster for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Previous to World Relief, she worked at one of the largest political consulting companies in Maryland. Jenny is co-author of “Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate” and contributing author to three other books. Jenny was named one of the “50 Women to Watch” by Christianity Today.