Welcoming the Stranger: ADL's Commitment to Protecting Refugees

April 18, 2016

The Refugee Crisis

With sixty million people forcibly displaced from their homes, today the world faces the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Around the world, one in every 122 people is currently a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. There are refugees fleeing Syria, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and dozens of other countries. 

Last fall a heartbreaking image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body lying face down in the waves appeared in newspapers, on television, and on social media around the world. He drowned as his family--caught between ISIS's brutality and the Assad regime's barrel bombs--desperately attempted to flee extreme violence in Syria. At least in part stirred to action by the heartbreaking photo, international leaders began announcing that their countries would take in more refugees. President Obama soon announced that the United States would open its doors to 10,000 Syrians seeking refuge.

In the aftermath of the tragic attacks in Paris, Belgium, Jakarta, Egypt and other places, however, too often the call has been to reject refugees. Instead of being met with compassion and open arms, many of today's refugees have  encountered closed doors and hateful rhetoric.

The possibility of future terrorist attacks of course raises fear and anxiety, but America has put up the highest hurdles in the world for refugees seeking entry. In fact, refugee status is the single most difficult way to enter the United States. Refugees must pass difficult and thorough screenings by the U.S. Department of State, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, international intelligence agencies, and the United Nations. Refugees are not terrorists. They are people fleeing the very same brutality we fear.

Once We Were Strangers, Too

For members of the Jewish community, the refugee crisis often feels familiar and personal. Many entered--or have family members who entered--the United States as refugees, fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, Nazism in Germany, political oppression in the Soviet Union or Iran, and the list goes on. Still others remember family members who perished because the world closed its doors.

In January 1939, for example--two months after Kristallnacht (the "night of broken glass") left windows of Jewish homes and businesses in Germany shattered, synagogues destroyed, 91 Jews murdered, 26,000 deported to concentration camps, and thousands more desperate to flee Germany--a poll in the United States asked whether the United States should take in 10,000 refugee children from Germany, most of them Jewish. A shameful and astounding 61 percent of respondents said no.

Four months later, the St. Louis, a boat carrying 937 refugees--most of them Jews fleeing the Third Reich--set sail from Germany. As the St. Louis sailed so close to Florida that the passengers could see the lights from Miami, they appealed to President Roosevelt to give them safe harbor. With public opinion opposed to lifting stringent immigration quotas or to making an exception for the passengers of the St. Louis, the ship returned to Europe. Almost one quarter of its passengers perished in the Holocaust.

Today ADL advocates for refugee rights not only because it is the humane and moral course of action, but because once we were strangers, too. 

Now, ADL has teamed up with the Creative Action Network, a global community of over 10,000 artists and designers around the world harnessing their talents for good, to launch a new campaign, We Were Strangers Too. Over the next weeks and months artists will be using their talents to tell stories of refugees from around the world and across time.  See the artworkadd your own design to the collection, or buy your favorite. Be sure to check back regularly, as we are receiving more submissions every day. Just as the image of Aylan Kurdi stirred the world to action, the artwork from We Were Strangers Too will soften hearts and change minds. 

Take Action

Now is a critical time for Congress to hear from constituents who support refugee resettlement. Urge your Members now to support funding for refugee resettlement programs and to cosponsor the Refugee Protection Act (H.R.5851/S.3241), which would modernize the way that the U.S. resettles refugees who are fleeing the brutality of ISIS and allow us to help more people more efficiently and effectively.

More from ADL on the Refugee Crisis

Resources for Educators and Families

A bill pending now in Congress would make it much harder for refugees fleeing extreme violence to find safety and a new home in the United States. Learn more about the bill and urge your representative to save America's refugee resettlement programs today!