The world has more refugees than at any time since World War II, and the United States is not leading the way toward resettling them.
That is among the concerns raised by Aden Batar, director of refugee resettlement for Catholic Community Services of Utah. Earlier this month, he was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize from the local chapter of the Gandhi Alliance for Peace.
The organization gave him the prize because of his yearslong efforts to resettle refugees.
Batar, his wife and two children fled Somalia in 1990, when civil war broke out in that country on the Horn of Africa. Their dangerous journey eventually led them to Utah in 1994.
Educated in Africa to practice law, he has worked for Catholic Community Service’s (CCS) resettlement program since 1996. Batar became the director in 2001.
During his tenure at CCS, Batar has been instrumental in helping thousands of refugees begin new lives. Utah now has about 60,000 refugees from countries around the world.
The goal, Batar said, is to help them become self-reliant, productive members of society.
“Refugees pay it back,” he said. “We make this a better place to live.”
But during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the U.S. accepted only 52,000 refugees compared with 85,000 the previous year.
“If the United States does not lead on this issue, we might see other countries reduce refugee arrivals,” he said. “What the [Trump] administration doesn‘t understand is that, to the rest of the world, we are not meeting our commitment.”
The fear, Batar explained, is that countries with huge refugee camps, such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, will send people back to their countries of origin and into harm’s way.
Presently, the United Nations estimates that 65 million people have been displaced from their homes. Of them, about 22 million are in refugee camps.
The U.N. hoped to resettle 1.2 million last year, but only about 200,000 found new homes, Batar noted. That leaves people stranded in camps under poor living conditions or in war-torn zones with little food or water.
Batar also serves on the board for the Center for Research on Migration and Refugee Integration, and Utah Refugee Services, among others.