World Refugee Day
Refugee: a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution
Today is World Refugee Day, and there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people across the world, according to The UN Refugee Agency.
Hearing the stories
I first came face-to-face with the refugee crisis in July of 2016 when my friend and I travelled to Greece. We volunteered at the Salvation Army day center for refugees in Athens. We handed out clothing, sorted diapers, and made sandwiches for refugee families; many of them coming from a park a few blocks away where they spent the night. The Salvation Army major told us how the park would flood during heavy rains. The refugees were often taken advantage of, scammed and stolen from.
What made this current event and news story real to me in 2016 was the time we sent talking to the other volunteers, many who were refugees themselves but had been in the country a few months or years longer than those we served. One woman showed us pictures of her husband after he had been beaten, and told us how he had been a DJ and she had been a hairdresser. She was only a few years older than us. Another man showed us photos of all of his motorcycles he used to own when he served as a security guard. We talked to a man from Turkey who was an economist. He often wrote articles and appeared on the news to talk about the country’s economy, he told us, and because of that he was targeted. He left behind all he knew and fled the country.
My father is an economics professor.
This man could have been my father. These families, my family.
We can be prideful or ignorant towards the refugee crisis. We can close our borders, our doors and our hearts. Or we can realize that these fathers, mothers, students, people, are leaving behind their jobs, homes and all they know in search of a better and safer life. I would hope my father would do the same for me, so who am I to try and deny a better life for a father from another country.
Seeing the lives
In 2017, I returned to Greece and worked with an organization in a refugee camp. There, I saw the living spaces of the refugees and was humbled by their hospitality. The camp was comprised of rows of metal boxes that contained three small rooms and two, often large, families each. The camp I worked in was specifically for refugees with disabilities, and many of them had been in the camp for years, waiting for asylum.
I saw the changing refugee crisis in Greece when I traveled to Athens in May of this year. I talked to Salvation Army volunteers who said the park, packed with refugees a few years earlier, was now cleared. Instead of the immediate needs of food and water, the refugees now needed furniture if they were able to get provided housing. They need language classes and education for their children. They needed asylum; they needed a home.
Yet in the settling of this initial chaos, awareness of more problems arises. We worked with Community House Damaris, a safehouse and long term rehabilitation program for refugee women who have been trafficked or sexually exploited. Some of these women were trafficked from Central American countries to the Middle Eastern countries they fled from. As the only safehouse in Athens to provide a home to women with children, many of the residents are pregnant or have young children.
The world is dark, and the weight of it is overwhelming.
Each day, 44,400 people are forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution.
This is called a crisis, but the response doesn’t always seem urgent. Though the U.S.government has set a cap of receiving 45,000 refugees by the end of the fiscal year in September, they have only admitted 4,331 refugees in 2018, according to CBS News. By the time refugees come to the U.S., they have often been in camps for years.
What can we do?
Be an advocate for refugees: Promote understanding in your conversations and combat ignorance with truth. Replace pride or entitlement about your country of origin with gratitude for your safety, then fight for that for all people.
Pray: As the church, let us remember that we are also waiting for a restored and perfect home - the Kingdom of God.