International law was designed to protect vulnerable refugees but we should do our part too

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Monday, July 3, 2017 - 12:54

Much to the disappointment of human rights advocates, the American government is currently actively pursuing measures to reduce the number of refugees it admits from war-torn countries like Syria. For American human rights defenders like Christina Moreno, this is a low point in the country’s imperfect but exemplary human rights record.

Moreno has a few ideas on how Americans and, indeed the world, can rediscover its empathy which she shared at a recent HAGUE TALK themed on “How to get inclusive justice.”

“Be more active with refugees who are resettling in your community whether that's making a donation or whether that's helping them improve their language skills. Something where you can be actively involved. Get to know them,” said Moreno.

As part of Justice Hub’s #MyJustice series, we feature her recent HAGUE TALK:

A turning point

My Story starts on my 16th birthday when I dropped out of high school. By the time I was 18, I had my first child and I was on welfare. I couldn't find a job. I couldn't even find a part time job that would support myself and my son.

The turning point in my life came when I went to meet with my case worker. I remember having my young son on my lap and she asking me what I wanted as a career and I told her I'd always wanted to be a lawyer. She kind of laughed and said," I am sorry, that’s just not going to work out for you anymore. Here are some job applications. Target and Walmart are hiring. They need cashiers."

I remember feeling so embarrassed and defeated as I left her office. I began to think to myself, "she's' right. That time had come and gone. My life is different now." But on the bus ride home, I just remember looking at my son and thinking that he deserves more. He deserves better than this. This is not going to be our lives. 

I remember the spirit of defiance rising up within me. It was from that moment on that I changed my life. I enrolled in a technical college, I was able to be certified in call centre customer service. I was able to get a full-time job and I enrolled in night school. Through a lot of hard work and dedication, I was able to earn my associate's degree at the community college then I transferred to a university and earned my bachelor's. I also did the master's programme and in 2013, I earned my law degree. 

Today, I work in an extraordinary field. Through my work, I am able to help people all around the world. My son is 18 years old and I couldn't be more proud of him. 

Why am I telling you all this?

I am here to tell you that the chance of living the American dream is slowly fading for those who want to come to the United States in pursuit of freedom and safety. On March 6th, 2017 the President of the United States signed a revised executive order that would ban foreign nations from 6 Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. It also proposed to put a stop to the refugee resettlement programme for 120 days. 

The numbers 

I don't want to talk about that but I want to talk about the numbers. It has been estimated that in the 120 days that the travel ban will be in place, 20,000 refugees could have been relocated to safety in the United States. Let's stop and think about that for a second. That's 20,000 people who are fleeing not because they want to but because they have to. 

That's 20,000 lives that are affected. These people, if we allowed it, could have access to clean water, food and a warm bed. These are things that you and I take for granted every single day. 

International Law 

In thinking about this, I want to look at international law. I think the domestic law in the United States is doing a pretty good job at ensuring inclusive justice but I want to look at international law and what that's doing and what this revised order is saying. 

One of the many great things about International Law is that it was actually developed by the international community to protect those most vulnerable against any discrimination based on race, religion or national origin. When we look at the Executive Order, we see that it goes against many international treaties most of which are sanctioned by the United States. I won't go into all of them, but one of them is the UN refugee convention. 

The Voyage of the St. Louis

The United States has a long tradition of welcoming refugees. I am not going to sit here and tell you that the United States is perfect and that it hasn't made mistakes because that would be false. You know it and I know it. One example, in particular, is in 1939 on the Voyage of the St. Louis. 937 Jewish passengers were on board and they were turned away from the United States. 

Of the 937 passengers, that were turned away, about 250 were known to have died in the Holocaust and about 350 were know to have survived the war. When you think about that and about the extraordinary numbers of the people that we could be helping, you start to ask: what direction is America going in? When you look at the examples of how this is already changing America, it's extraordinary. Some scientists are already rethinking going to America because they think they will be treated as a foreigner. 

An empathetic appeal 

In closing, I want to make an empathetic appeal. Compassion might not move mountains but it will make people pay attention. Besides that, we have to be able to stand up against these policies because they are not right. They are not what we stand for which are democratic values. 

This not just at an individual level but as a collective society. So my challenge to you is this; take more action with your community. Be more active with refugees who are resettling in your community whether that's making a donation or whether that's helping them improve their language skills. Something where you can be actively involved. Get to know them. I promise you that when you meet them and you actually hear their stories, it's only at that point when you will really start to think that these people deserve a chance. That they deserve compassion. 

Christina Moreno is a legal consultant and head of communications at Global Rights Compliance LLP (GRC). GRC is an international legal partnership specialising in on-the-ground international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights issues in conflict-affected and high-risk areas of the world, working with businesses and governments to identify, prevent and mitigate adverse IHL and human rights impacts.

HAGUE TALKS is a meeting place for creative minds, peace inventors and game changers in the field of peace and justice. For more info visit http://www.haguetalks.com/

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