“Give us your tired, your poor”

Why it’s your responsibility to aid in the global refugee crisis


Photo @theIRC

Fiona Gillen, R1 Editor-in-Chief

“They didn’t want us, and I’m pretty sure you don’t either,” she admitted quietly. The small girl looked up at me through her thick eyelashes, rocking back and forth on her pink, bedazzled high heels. Lahiruni’s* shoes, she told me, were a souvenir from her time spent on Nauru—Australia’s refugee dumping ground—and they serve as a constant reminder of the two years she spent there as a halfway point between Sri Lanka (her home), and the U.S. She was only 11 years old.

I met Lahiruni last summer when I was volunteering with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a non-profit dedicated to helping those whose lives have been torn apart by conflict. Before my time at the IRC, it was easy to feel like the refugee crisis was far away. I don’t think I could’ve pointed out Sri Lanka or Yemen on a map and I’d never heard of languages like Kiswahili, Tamil or Dari. The IRC changed that, opening my eyes to the masses of humanity who are seeking freedom, safety and refuge—and are too often cast aside.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, there were 68.5 million people forcibly displaced at the end of 2017. To put that in perspective, that’s about eight times the population of New York City. These people, 52 percent of whom are children, are fleeing religious persecution, war, famine and, most of all, fear.

Ignorant and unmoved, Donald Trump has astronomically reduced the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. Obama set 2017’s refugee admission target at 110,000, but within days of Trump’s inauguration, this number was cut to 50,000. For the 2019 fiscal year, Trump reduced the admission target yet again: it now sits at merely 30,000. Our president has turned his back not only on the refugee population, but on the fundamental values upon which our nation was built.

America calls itself the “Leader of the Free World,” but Trump’s “America First” ideology threatens this title—one that our nation has held since World War II. A good leader can’t always put themselves first, yet Trump believes that because refugees don’t hold American passports, they’re not worthy of his time. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that many of these refugees reflect America’s values far better than Trump does himself.

Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are beaten, abused and killed for their religious beliefs—a right that Americans account for in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Syrian and Iraqi refugees are fleeing the violence of ISIS and other extremist groups that are also enemies of the U.S. Gay men in Chechnya are sent to concentration camps for their sexual orientation and seek refuge in other nations like the U.S. because we claim to have equality for all.

What these refugees will soon realize, however, is that as long as Trump is sitting in the Oval Office, their suffering will be ignored.

On Easter, more than 350 Sri Lankans were killed in suicide bombings throughout the country. Lahiruni, with her pink high heels and dreams of finally having a home where she’s welcome and loved, could have easily been one of those 350 victims.

The refugee crisis is no longer a political debate, but a question of morals and humanity: Will you turn your back on them?

Donate or find out how you can help by going to www.rescue.org.

*Name changed for privacy