REFUGEES: How big is the problem?

(*) This Sunday churches throughout the world are called to consider the plight of refugees. 

Here are some statistics for 2023 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that are perhaps incomprehensible to us, but also shocking and confronting. They help us to understand just how huge this problem is for our world.

  • (*) The United Nations tells us that 110 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide. (This means that they have been driven out of their homes by war, famine or disaster)
  • (*) Of these, 62.5 million are displaced within their home countries.
  • (*) 36.4 million are refugees, people who have been forced to flee from their own country.
  • (*) Over half of the refugees and people in need come from three countries – Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. South Sudan is a country that we do not hear much about in the news today, but it has been subject to conflict, drought, and famine on and off for many years.

Where do the refugees go?

Under international law, refugees are entitled to protection and assistance – the global community is obligated to meet their basic human rights.

  • (*) Iran and Turkey host 3.5 million refugees each, the most of any country These are both poor countries and not well able to support this enormous refugee population.
  • (*) New Zealand accepts 1,500 refugees each year, with 200 places reserved for refugees from Afghanistan and the Middle East.

How can we support refugees?

(*) ACT Alliance is a global alliance of more than 145 churches and related

organisations from over 120 countries created to provide humanitarian aid

for poor and marginalized people. ACT means Action by Churches

Together. We have membership of ACT through Christian World Service. 

(*) Listen to the story of one refugee, Mohammed Hosein

Mohammad Hosein lives with his wife and infant daughter in Bucharest, Romania, where he has just found permanent accommodation. Mohammad is a refugee. Twice over.

Originally from Afghanistan, he was a TV reporter in 2021 but fled the country in August after the Taliban took control. He and his pregnant wife drove 30 hours to the border at Chernyski, a drive which would ordinarily take just 7 hours.

While they were safe in Ukraine, the same could not be said for Mohammad’s family. His father is a judge and has been beaten by the Taliban because of his work.

The couple settled in Odessa, where they welcomed their daughter into the world. Mohammad received permanent resident status in Ukraine, although his wife did not yet have status. Then, just a few months later, their lives were upended again as war broke out. Once more, they fled, this time to Romania, but they wanted to go further, to Germany to be with other family members. Their trip to Romania was fairly smooth, and they were treated the same as all the other refugees fleeing Ukraine. But without a Ukrainian passport, they could not go further into Europe. Their Afghani passports are not enough to get where they wanted to go.   “We were staying in a camp near the immigration office,” Mohammad said. “But it was not clean. When I met staff from AIDRomania, and told them we had a newborn baby, they invited us to come and stay in one of several small apartments for families seeking asylum in Romania.”  Christian World Service and AIDRom are part of Act Alliance.  Mohammad and his family now have refugee status in Romania and have the right to go further into Europe.  “But I am not going to Germany,” he said. “Now I need to support my family. He wants to bring his father to Bucharest because it is so dangerous in Afghanistan at the moment. “I don’t know how we can do it, but I hope immigration will help. He is not safe.” …….

Refugees are people in huge need, but at the same time, they are people who when they find their home among us enrich our society in so many ways.

Reflection Readings: Genesis 18:1-10a, Matthew 25: 31-46 

 There is a very wonderful Maori word that we don’t have in English, Manaakitanga. It means hospitality and generosity and refers to the practice of showing kindness, respect, and support to guests and visitors. This involves providing for their needs and comfort and demonstrating warmth and hospitality. The fact that we don’t have the equivalent word In English doesn’t mean that we don’t show Manaakitanga, but it’s wonderful to be able to sum all of this up in one word.  Many of you are experts at showing manaakitanga so you know what this is all about.

Manaakitanga is what Abraham and Sarah showed to the three men who unexpectedly arrived at their tent in the middle of the day.  The mind blows when considering the logistics of dealing with unexpected guests around 2000 BCE.  There was no biscuit tin with the standby shortbread to bring out.  There was no freezer where a frozen meal was stashed.  There wasn’t even bread that could be turned into sandwiches.  The process of hospitality started with washing the strangers’ feet, making the dough for the bread, and slaughtering the calf for the meal.  Fresh water had to be drawn, animals milked, and eventually, a meal could be placed before the visitors.  It was a really big job – But there was no way that Abraham and Sarah were going to let these people continue on their way without attending to their needs and making them welcome.  They showed them the ultimate in hospitality and as a result, they were blessed – with a child in their old age.

Manaakitanga is the quality that Jesus attributed to the sheep in his parable of the sheep and the goats. Those, characterised as sheep, who will follow the path into life forever with God, are those who feed the hungry, provide water for the thirsty, clothe the naked, and look after the sick and the imprisoned, Jesus said. They welcome and show compassion for everyone without reservation.  Why do they do it?  Because in God’s kingdom there is a place for everyone. 

As followers of Jesus’ way, we try hard to be like the sheep and to reach out to those in need.  So on this Refugee Sunday, we need to think hard about how we show concern for refugees.    We can make sure we are informed about the plight of refugees.  It’s easier to pretend that there aren’t over 36 million people living in temporary shelters outside of their homelands. It won’t often be seen on the 6pm news on tv – if we still watch it.  We have to go looking on the websites of Christian World Service and the Red Cross.  When we do, we find stories that are both appalling and also tributes to human resilience.  And once we are informed, we need to respond.  How do we do this?  We can give money.  It’s easy to discount aid organisations – many are highly commercial operations.  But Christian World Service working under the umbrella of ACT Alliance gives to the people on the ground in their own countries.  So we do have a reliable channel for giving – and we have already raised $310 through the Table Talk movie night at King’s Birthday weekend which is great.  Another thing we can do is pray.  Well-informed prayer can and does make a difference.  This is available to all of us.

Then we can offer manaakitanga to the refugees who find their way to New Zealand and make their home among us.  We have Hamdi from Somalia and her family living next door to us.  Some of you will have met Hamdi and helped her – making her property secure, sewing curtains, taking food, and helping in the garden.  Some of you have longstanding relationships with refugee families and have supported them for many years. Jesus would want us to be looking out for these people living in our midst, being proactive in reaching out to them and welcoming them to our land.  It can be as little as a friendly smile at the supermarket or a conversation in a taxi.  It can be offering friendship as a neighbour.  It’s all about celebrating differences and reaching out because we are all part of God’s family and loved by God.

So on this Refugee Sunday let’s celebrate the refugees in our midst who undoubtedly enrich our society and let’s support in any way we can the millions of people who live without a home and seek a safe place to live.