Yesterday I had breakfast with a refugee, and later I communicated with another refugee over Facebook. They are just two examples of a growing phenomenon: refugee status is becoming an unacknowledged feature of regular life.
The breakfast was with an elderly family friend who had to leave her middle-class apartment in Florida just before Hurricane Irma. The Facebook friend was a niece fleeing the fires of Northern California.
Of course, the press does not routinely refer to such people as refugees--it prefers the term "evacuee." Many people think that refugee status is conferred by war or persecution, but natural disasters also create refugees. In fact, one study estimates 25 million to 1 billion refugees by 2050 as a result of climate change. (Naturally, wars and persecution caused by the climate may also play a role.)
As we care for friends and loved ones evacuated from parts of the US by storms and fires, we can re-evaluate our view toward refugees in general. Hopefully, we will be led to more empathy and willingness to help refugees from other countries.
The US is lucky to be a large, rich country that can absorb its internal refugees. Many countries cannot. And in the US, as elsewhere in the world, refugees with money or connections to financially well-off relatives can recover more quickly from climate change and other refugee conditions. We must, for the sake of justice, invest extra resources for those who can't just fly to a relative's city or rent an apartment while their home is being rebuilt.
The number of people with refugee status has increased greatly decade over decade, and is going to increase more. Right now we are helping the refugees we know as brother and sister, high school buddy, fellow member of a religion. It is our duty to formulate general policies for refugees throughout the world.
By Andy Oram, Secretary Pro Tem, JCAN