We are used to hearing the word Refugee in our society. We hear it on the news, we read it in the papers, we are vaguely aware that there are refugees around the world, we might even know that there are refugees in our country; but do we truly understand the plight of refugees in the 21st century?
What is a refugee?
The Collins dictionary defines the word Refugee as “a person who has fled from some danger or problem, especially political persecution”
But how would you define the word refugee?
Can you define it?
Can you tie it down?
Can one definition encompass all the refugees in the world?
It seems to me that every time I understand what a refugee is, a new trauma creates more refugees and my definition needs redefining. Today this seems the closest I can get to my definition of refugee:
a person who has, in desperation, left their home to find a place where their life will no longer be at risk.
Where are the refugees coming from?
There are currently refugees fleaing from the middle eastern and african war zones; refugees saving themselves from political oppression; refugees avoiding unfair justice systems and possibly threats on their lives. Refugees are in campes awaiting political change in their homelands so that they can return in safety to their families and posessions and culture. Refugees have made homes away from their homelands in an attempt to make safe, secure lives for their families. Refugees are everywhere, perhaps on your street and you never knew they had fled with nothing.
Here’s one prime example; Somalia
The one thing we know about war zones is that they create refugees; this is as true in Somalia as anywhere else. But does the world still know about it? Its unreported, neglected, ignored. Over 750,000 Somali refugees are sheltering in an enormous refugee camp in Kenya; and the numbers increase by almost 10,000 a day! Huge numbers of people will no homes, no quality of life and no knowledge of the future. This is what being a refugee is like; it’s awful but it’s better than the alternative.
What is the alternative? From what are they fleaing?
It’s the horror of Mogadishu!
Pillaging of homes
Rape of women and children
Well over a million people dead
What is being a refugee like?
Not even your basic needs are met.
No shelter from the elements other than stick shelters. Limited clean water, less than we would drink a day. Very little food, a share of what little aid makes it’s way to them.
Can you imagine living without knowing if you can feed your children?
What can they look forward to?
Nothing. After twenty years of war how can these people imagine the future? They hope to stay alive, stat together as a family; that’s it.
This is what being a refugee is really like. This is why people flea their homeland and ask other countries to care for them. This is why I argue with those who think we should close our UK Borders.
What do refugees do once they flea?
It is easy to pretend refugees are looking for a free ride; but not when you know the facts. These are the facts; and I have not even shared the worst. There is an ongoing feeling in the UK that we should shut our borders to immigrants who want to use our resources; a feeling I oppose strongly. I think this thinking comes from a lack of understanding about refugees. Refugees do not just flea to the west and become a drain on society, far from it; that has never been true and continues to be an urban myth. There are numerous contributions that refugees make to the world. There are too many to mention, from the man who run’s my local chinese, to the woman at church whohad fled oppression to my daughter’s friend who has no memory of her parents’ homeland.
Let’s think bigger; let’s think news-worthy gifts from refugees. Well there’s Freud; as a refugee from Nazi Germany he never gave up but continued in his fascination of people and their actions. I do not doubt that he would have been a great psyhciatrist no matter what his background, but surely his formative years helped him in his desire to understand why we do what we do.
And how about the field of architecture. Two refugees were a key part of the building of the Millennium Dome in London; now the O2 arena. They are Richard Rogers’ whose parents were refugees; and Eva Jiricna who herself fled from Czechoslovakia. They fled oppression and danger and brought their skills to London where they work to provide stunning architectural pieces.
What can we do?
II have read, researched, cried, written and spoken about the plight of refugees. But this is not enough.
I will write to my MP, join me.
I will continue to campaign for the plight of refugees, join in.
I will pray, pray with me.
Father God, sustainer of life
You know the pain of refugees; through Jesus you experienced it.
You know the loneliness of having no where that’s home.
You know the fear of not knowing where the next meal’s coming from.
You felt it and feel it today with sorrow.
We ask for your care and warmth on those who are homeless; for your nourishment and goodness on those without food; and your love on those separated from their loved ones.
Bring strength to those who work with and for refugees; bring compassion to those who can make a difference; bring understanding to those who are worried by their needs.
Lord we are your hands and feet, please remind us of this as we hear about the plight of refugees and give us our own ways to help.
Through Jesus we pray.