By Betty Ann (BA) Miskowiec, Executive Director
West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry
“Welcome Home.” Two of the most beautiful words ever. “Welcome home” means
- You are accepted here.
- You belong.
- You are safe.
- You are wanted.
- We, your family, have your back.
- No matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, what you look like, who you love, you are welcome here.
This. Is. Your. Home.
Yet, many people who live here in the United States do not feel that it is their home.
For 400 years, African-Americans have been treated as less than human, valuable only for the use Anglo-Americans can make of them. It was true in the time of slave markets and is still true today when the lives of African-Americans seem to be dispensable.
Despite the promise implied by the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. has denied welcome and a home to persons seeking a safe haven.
According to the Brookings Institution, the net increase of immigrants in the U.S. population in 2018 declined more than 70% from the year before. The decline for refugees is similar. This reduction is attributed largely to President Trump’s restrictive approach to immigration, including a blanket ban on accepting persons from these seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.
In West Virginia, however, we say to those seeking refuge, “You are welcome here.”
A focused effort to welcome refugees began in 2015 when a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy and lay persons in Charleston, West Virginia, met to discuss a response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian civil war has resulted in 12 million displaced persons, half of whom are children, making it one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. Who can forget the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi who drowned when the rubber boat his family used to flee the civil war capsized?
Despite our country’s shutting the door on persons fleeing for their lives, WVIRM has been able to help three families seeking refuge from torture and imprisonment in their home countries. Two of those families chose to make West Virginia their home. In resettling these families, WVIRM relied heavily on the support and expertise of EMM and local churches.
This September 2020, WVIRM, in conjunction with Welcoming America and in partnership with EMM, is hosting nine days of virtual events raising awareness of the benefits of living in diverse and inclusive communities. When communities affirmatively bring together immigrants, refugees, and long-time residents, they build strong connections that lead to collective prosperity. In hosting these events, WVIRM stands with persons of faith who follow G-d’s command: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Leviticus 19:34.
Our central event, September 17 at 7:00 p.m., is a panel discussion among faith leaders and immigrants centered on the theme #CreatingHomeTogether. You can access this Facebook Live event at www.facebook.com/WVIRM.
We, at West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry, say to all persons, but especially to refugees and others seeking asylum in the United States, “Welcome Home.”