- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Three refugees sat in a drizzle Wednesday afternoon as pastors and nuns knelt among bustling tourists to bathe their feet outside the White House.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition organized the event meant to show of support for refugees in the United States and to urge the Trump administration to accept more into the country.

“It is a way to show our love for those who have come to this nation seeking refuge,” said the Rev. Reuben Eckels of the Church World Service, a Christian ministry that aids refugees. “We look today to turn this little space into a sanctuary a place where everyone feels safe, everyone feels appreciated, everyone feels welcomed and loved. That is what our nation is supposed to stand for.”

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One refugee said in an interview that he had to flee his home and his family because he did not have freedom of speech.

“I was kidnapped for six months in the jungle. I was beaten every day,” said Congolese refugee Beni Dedieu Luzau, a former journalist who said he was targeted in 2000 for advocating to abolish the death penalty and writing about LGBT rights.

Mr. Luzau fled the Congo and became a refugee in Uganda. His reporting on LGBT rights and better treatment of HIV/AIDs patients lost him his refuge status e in Uganda five years later, and he fled to Kenya as an undocumented refugee.

After eight months, his refugee application to the United States was accepted, and Mr. Luzau moved to Las Vegas. Today, he lives in Maryland, where he is the founder of the Refugee Alliance Network.

Last year, the number of refugees worldwide was the highest recorded at 65.5 million people, according to a U.N. report. The U.S. admitted 53,716 refugees in 2017, a decline from the 75,000 admitted on average each year over the past decade, according to the State Department. This year the Trump administration is expected to settle 21,292 refugees, the Guardian reported.

“It invites all of us to ask, and I invite you all to ask with me, where are the refugees?” said the Rev. Sharon Stanley, a Presbyterian pastor and director of refugee ministries for the Disciples of Christ Church.

Speakers called for the administration to admit at least 45,000 refugees in 2018 and raise the limit of refugees who can be accepted to 75,000 in 2019.

The group of 20 held the demonstration and foot-washing the day before Maundy Thursday, when Jesus Christ washed the feet of his apostles before the Last Supper, according to the Gospels. For the religious leaders who washed feet Wednesday, it was a profound spiritual moment.

“I know it’s only symbolic but it made me be able to touch the foot of a refugee and to say ‘I welcome you, my brother,’” said Sister Marie Lucey, a Catholic nun with the Franciscan Action Network through which she advocates for immigration reform on Capitol Hill and nationwide. “It was just very powerful, very moving.”

“Feet are not glamorous. But it is our feet that make possible movement. It is our feet that take us places,” said Ms. Stanley. “For refugees we know that feet are what help people run away, to escape.”

Another Congolese refugee in attendance was also a former reporter. Andrew Kalala, 55, said he had to flee his country after receiving death threats for covering protests.

He now lives in East Petersburg, Pennsylvania, after arriving to the United States as a refugee 14 years ago. Today he runs a magazine and volunteers as the head of a community organization for Congolese families in central Pennsylvania.

“I think I’m home,” Mr. Kalala said, acknowledging that many families in his community are waiting to reunite across border. “There are people who have been waiting for four years, five years, and I feel really bad for them.”

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