Refugee resettlement: Why, when and how?

February 24, 2016

I was able to catch up with refugee expert Jenny Yang on a recent episode of the Canon & Culture Podcast. Below is a condensed Q&A from that conversation. The full interview can be heard in its entirety here. Jenny Yang is Vice President for Public Policy at World Relief.

Visit our Syria page to learn about the #PrayforRefugees Campaign.

What is World Relief?

YANG:  World Relief is a humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals. We were actually created after WWII when evangelicals in the United States were asking what they could do to respond to the widows and orphans that were a result of the war in Europe at that time. They gathered together and sent food and clothing and, since then, we have been serving the most vulnerable around the world and in the United States. We are one of the nine agencies in the United States that resettles refugees. In many communities where we serve, primarily in Africa and Asia, we try to empower local churches to identify and serve the most vulnerable in their community.

Humanitarian organizations do not consider resettlement the first or even the best option for refugees. How do World Relief and other humanitarian groups get to the point of saying, look, this person or this family really does need to resettle in a different land?

YANG:  Resettlement is one of three durable solutions for any refugee. And, of course, you actually have to be a refugee, which means you have to flee across a border into another country. Most people who are displaced remain displaced within their own country, which means resettlement is not an option to them.There are around 20 million refugees around the world, and most of these refugees will never be resettled.

The first durable solution for any refugee is to be able to voluntarily repatriate to their own country. This means, for many refugees, when the war is over and there is enough rebuilding and safety, some refugees are able to go home.

The second durable solution is called local integration. If a refugee cannot return home but they are seeking asylum in another country, then there are times when they are able to get legal status and actually integrate into the communities. In some situations, with refugees when they have been living there for 15 to 20 years, the host government will actually allow that to happen because many of them are pretty much from that country and have adopted those country’s values.

[The third durable solution], for a small, small, small number of refugees, is resettlement if they [a] cannot return home and if they [b] cannot locally integrate. Worldwide, the numbers for refugees that are resettled is probably around 200,000 or a little bit less than that (< 1 percent of global total).

Now, as a refugee, even if you want resettlement, you cannot apply to be resettled to another country. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) looks at all the people who have registered and tries to identify the most vulnerable individuals who are having an extremely difficult time integrating into the host community. For example, in the Syrian refugee crisis, you will see many of the refugees that are coming through the U.S. have been victims of torture. They are people who, for political reasons, are highly targeted and vulnerable, even in a [nearby] country with asylum.

[Following a recommendation by the UNHCR, the United States’] process by which they are able to come normally takes between 18 to 24 months. The reason it takes so long is because they have to be vetted through multiple security agencies in the United States. They are the most highly, vigorously vetted individuals to come to the United States.

Let’s say someone passes those hurdles—crosses an international border, registers at a U.N. refugee camp, is selected by the UNHCR, goes through the United States’ lengthy screening process—what happens after a refugee arrives in the States?

YANG: All of the refugees are partnered with one of the nine voluntary agencies or “VOLAGS,” the resettlement agencies of which World Relief is one. When we receive the biographical information for a specific refugee family, we will determine what city is the best. A lot of factors go into that. In some cases, the refugees will have family members or some community ties to a specific city. In other cases, they don’t have any ties, which means we can place them in a community where we feel like they could be welcomed. World Relief works in 27 different cities. We have sent Syrian refugees to 21 of the 26 offices where we receive refugees.

Once they arrive to the United States, we have between six to eight months to help them get on their feet, find a job, and learn English. Most of the refugees do find a job within the first six months or so. They are also going to English classes and are quickly integrated despite their experience being a refugee overseas.

Can you give us an example of a local church getting involved?

YANG: I will actually give a great example. In the state of Georgia, there has been really a difficult environment because the governor [had] been saying he doesn’t want Syrian refugees coming into their state. One of the specific things he did was to cut off benefits for Syrian refugees once they get to Georgia. And a local church there said, even if the government doesn’t provide these benefits to the refugees, we are willing to provide whatever this family needs (a couple with a little child). This church is Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, which is a significant Southern Baptist church in Georgia. Their Senior Pastor, Bryant Wright, was the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

If a church is interested in assisting a refugee resettlement process and learning more, where might they go?

YANG: Go to wewelcomerefugees.com. There are U.S. offices of World Relief and other agencies where you can volunteer to meet a refugee family and help them in their initial resettlement. On that web site, you will also see resources for pastors to preach on refugees from a theological point of view. There are also frequently asked questions and other information that could really help any church leader or ministry leader. Any person that wants to volunteer can get more information about how to do that.

Matthew T. Hawkins

Matthew T. Hawkins is a former policy director of the  ERLC. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in public theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and serves as chair of The One America Movement, a nonprofit that desires to build a united American society by eliminating toxic polarization. More information … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24