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They Will Know We Are Christians by our Refugee Resettlement

In our world today there are over 80 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, including 26.4 million refugees. In my last post I mentioned that less than 1% of refugees are resettled through a formal refugee resettlement program in one of 37 formal resettlement countries yearly, but in 2020 that number dipped down to the lowest in recorded history. In fact, of the 1.44 million refugees in urgent need of resettlement (as identified by the UNHCR), only 22,770 were resettled by the UNHCR in 25 countries. 

Yes, part of the reason was due to the global COVID-19 pandemic (a pandemic that left refugees and displaced people extremely vulnerable), but another part is the hardening of hearts and restricting of refugee resettlement quotas by countries, including in the United States. In 2018, the United States resettled only 22,517 refugees while Canada resettled 28,000 refugees. In 2020, the US resettled 11,814 refugees, the lowest number resettled since the beginning of the formal refugee resettlement program, which began in 1980. 

We welcome refugees because our laws reflect our values

The United States has set a lofty goal of resettling a maximum of 125,000 refugees, and Canada has increased their resettlement to resettle 36,000 refugees for 2021.

For those of us who believe that refugee resettlement is an important part of our national identity, this is good news. But let’s be clear: we welcome refugees not because they are American or Canadian, but because we are. Yes, many newly resettled refugees eventually become citizens of Canada or the United States, but not all do. Yes, refugees positively contribute to our countries in a myriad of ways, but seeing refugee resettlement as a transactional process where refugees must prove that they were worth our investment misses the mark. No, we welcome refugees because, as in the words of the United States Refugee Act of 1980, “The Congress declares that it is the historic policy of the United States to respond to the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands…”  Also, the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Act of 2001 states that part of its objective is, “ to recognize that the refugee program is in the first instance about saving lives and offering protection to the displaced and persecuted.” We welcome refugees because our laws reflect our values, and both the United States and Canada claim to value protecting the lives of those identified globally as refugees and in need of such protection.

In Canada, 2/3 of refugee resettlement occurs due to private sponsorship

Protecting the lives of refugees are not only national values; they are Christian ones, as well. One of the beautiful things about the refugee resettlement programs in Canada and the United States is that they welcome the participation of faith based organizations in the implementation of refugee resettlement; indeed, they depend on people of faith to survive. In Canada, 2/3 of refugee resettlement occurs due to private sponsorship (including sponsorship by Christian organizations, churches and individuals). Of the nine umbrella refugee resettlement agencies in the United States (often called VOLAG, or volunteer resettlement agencies), six are faith based and five are Christian agencies (Church World Service, Word Relief, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). These Christian organizations cannot survive without the support and active engagement of individuals and churches. 

Now is the time for Christians to stand up and make refugee resettlement programs bigger and better than ever before. To rethink not only the how, but they why, remembering that we welcome refugees not because they are Christian, but because we are. 

If you’d like to learn more about refugee resettlement in the United States or Canada, contact the CRC Office of Social Justice or the Centre for Public Dialogue. If you or your church have participated in welcoming refugees (through resettlement or other activities), I’d love to hear your stories! Please contact me at

Photo by adrianna geo on Unsplash


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