The plight of refugees near and far

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In this issue, Sister Rosemarie Milazzo shares about her recent experience in Iraq, including visiting refugees fleeing the conflict in neighboring Syria. (See story, page 18.) According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 1.1 million Syrian children—75 percent under the age of 12—have registered as refugees with UNHCR worldwide. Children are more than half the total Syrian refugee population, which now exceeds 2.2 million.

“The turmoil in Syria has torn families apart, with over 3,700 children in Jordan and Lebanon living without one or both of their parents, or with no adult caregivers at all,” the UNHCR report states. “By the end of September 2013, UNHCR had registered 2,440 unaccompanied or separated children in Lebanon and 1,320 in Jordan. In some cases the parents have died, been detained or sent their children into exile alone out of fear for their safety. … The conflict in Syria has caused Syrian girls and boys of all ages to suffer immensely, both physically and psychologically.

Children have been wounded or killed by sniper fire, rockets, missiles and falling debris. They have experienced firsthand conflict, destruction and violence. The psychological effects of such horrific experiences can be far-reaching, affecting their well-being, sleep, speech and social skills. Living in crowded homes with family members who are also distressed, some children find little respite.”

Faith in action: Read the UNHCR study at or contact the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns (MOGC) for a copy. UNHCR also provides a link to send a message of support to a Syrian child:

Your message will be translated and shared by UNHCR staff in refugee areas.

In a less bellicose situation—though still deeply traumatic—undocumented migrants apprehended in the United States face regular abuse in the process of being removed from this country, most often when processed through Operation Streamline, a Department of Homeland Security program that requires federal criminal prosecution and imprisonment of all unlawful border crossers.

According to a report issued at the end of 2013 by the Immigration Policy Center, the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona and the Department of Sociology at George Washington University, “physical and verbal mistreatment of migrants is not a random, sporadic occurrence but, rather, a systematic practice. One indication of this is that 11 percent of deportees report some form of physical abuse and 23 percent report verbal mistreatment while in U.S. custody.” The report, “Bordering on Criminal: the Routine Abuse of Migrants in the Removal System,” reflects the findings of the Migrant Border Crossing Study, a binational, multi-institutional study of 1,110 randomly selected, recently repatriated migrants surveyed in six Mexican cities between 2009 and 2012.

In addition to physical and verbal abuse, repatriated migrants also report that their belongings, including national identification cards, are taken and not returned. The taking of possessions, the study said, can have serious consequences for migrants and “is an expression of how dysfunctional the deportation system is.”

Faith in action: Read the entire “Bordering on Criminal” report at this link:, or contact the MOGC for a hard copy.

Learn more about these issues and more in NewsNotes, a 20-page newsletter published six times a year by the MOGC. Contact the MOGC for a free subscription: 202-832-1780,,

(Featured Image: Syrian children gather around a fire at a refugee camp in Ankara, Turkey, after fleeing fighting in their homeland. Many refugee children are also orphaned by the violence they escaped.
(CNS/U. Bekta/Turkey)

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