Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J., presents an ethical and religious framework for action on the global refugee crisis in his recently published book, Humanity in Crisis: Ethical and Religious Response to Refugees (2019). The new book explores the political, economic, and ecological factors that have led to the current refugee crisis, responsible for the forced displacement of over 70 million people worldwide. Hollenbach examines some of the major conflicts that have killed tens of millions of people and driven even more from their homes—from the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide to the ongoing civil war in Syria. Such humanitarian crises break apart the bonds that link people as brothers and sisters who share a common humanity, threatening the safety and well-being of individual people, entire nations, and future generations. Could these crises have been prevented? Why do they continue to happen?
The number of forcibly displaced people has reached a crisis level because there is a critical gap between the protections provided to refugees and the support they need, according to Hollenbach. That gap exists because the responsibility to aid those who are displaced is unevenly distributed. The economic and social challenges of refugee resettlement often fall on low- and middle-income countries in the Global South. Western countries, including the United States, play much smaller roles in addressing the refugee crisis, despite having a greater capacity to help. “How to achieve greater fairness in sharing the responsibility toward those affected by emergencies is perhaps the greatest ethical challenge facing the humanitarian movement today,” says Hollenbach, who charts a new ethic of global responsibility-sharing on the refugee crisis in the book.
Hollenbach draws from the values of both the modern humanitarian movement and various faith traditions, including Catholicism, to highlight how the moral imperative to aid refugees emerges from respect for our shared humanity. “Respect for humanity means that when the lives and basic well-being of human beings are in serious danger, moral responsibilities reach across the borders of national, cultural, and religious communities,” he says. There is a responsibility to help refugees who are in serious need when we have the capacity to do so without undue burden.
Religion can play important roles in how people experience and manage the refugee crisis, according to Hollenbach. “Religious belief can help sustain those who are suffering the effects of crisis,” he says. “It energizes the work of those who seek to assist the displaced. The normative values of religious traditions also give faith-based agencies distinctive approaches to their work.” Action grounded in religious faith will continue to shape the global response to the refugee crisis, providing support to millions of displaced people worldwide through organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, HIAS, and Islamic Relief.
Sharing the responsibility to help displaced people gives Hollenbach hope for the future of the global refugee crisis. “If we mobilize people, church groups, human rights groups, other organizations and work together, we can make a real difference, and that gives me hope to say this is not an impossible crisis—it can be dealt with,” he says. The new book, a culmination of Hollenbach’s efforts to apply scholarship and activism in Christian social ethics to human rights and the global refugee crisis, is available from Georgetown University Press.
Read reflections of policymakers and relief workers in the humanitarian field on what motivates their work in a Berkley Forum series on "Finding Hope in Humanitarian Crisis."