An insistent heavy-handed hammering startles you awake as your heart jumps to the beat of the battering of the door.
“They’ve finally come. We must flee now!” you whisper frantically to your wife and children.
“Wake up,” you whisper. “Put your shoes on. Leave everything else. We must go.”
As you tie the last shoelace, you hear the door being broken to shards and you run out the back holding your children’s hands while scrabbling through bushes into the darkness with your heart pulsing fear into every sinew of your body.
This story is just one reality of millions of refugees each year.
Fear dominates their lives, prompting them to leave, trying desperately to merely survive. The border ahead of them is comprised of unknowns, yet remains a clarion call of hope and a future.
Seen and Heard… Understood?
We hear and see news reports about refugees. We agree they need to get out of their countries where tyrants rule, rebels kill, and genocide abounds.
We can see that greed, corruption, and prejudice pits radical factions against the innocent, who suffer from persecution every day.
What we see is disturbing, as we cry out for other countries to provide them sanctuary, with personal and freedom and rights.
Yet, when refugees enter our country, hundreds or thousands demonstrate a dizzying about face. They too are in fear.
Fear of having their jobs taken, of their cultures changing, of violence escalating, and of differing world views challenging deeply-held beliefs.
Not every refugee is met with fear. Some see and hear the plight of refugees and open their arms and hearts and help.
Whatever your personal opinions have been of refugees, there are important questions that must be answered before a conclusion is drawn one way or the other.
Who are these refugees and where are they from?
What do they need? Can we really help?
I contend that if we were to remove that label and not see a refugee, we would see people and families a lot like our own.
Moms and dads fearing for their children’s safety.
Dreams that have yet to be fulfilled; losses that must be grieved; hope that keeps them afloat one day at a time.
Should we commit to hearing about their humanity, perhaps we could help them become interdependent with the citizens of their adopted country, while also becoming interdependent with them.
Who are Refugees and Asylum Seekers?
To start with, we must understand a couple terms. According to the United Nations High Council on Refugees (UNHCR), “A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.” An asylum seeker is a refugee who asks a government officially for refugee status in their country.
According to the UNHCR, in 2016 there were 66.5 million people of concern and and 20,013,996 refugees and asylum seekers. These 20+ million refugees (and asylum seekers) come from around the world. One in every 113 people globally is a refugee fleeing from places like the Middle East, as well as African nations, South and Central American countries, China, Costa Rica, Bosnia, Turkey, New Zealand, southeast Asia, United Kingdom, and the United States.
Each and every person has a story.
Some refugee stories reveal torture and death of family and friends amidst political corruption. Other expose racial and tribal genocide, called ethnic cleansing. Often these stories declare the usurpation of the rights of females by marrying children to older men. Men, women, and children are captured and sold into slavery of hard labor or prostitution. Of the 20+ million refugees and asylum seekers, there are 20+ million heinous stories.
The numbers are dizzying and the losses staggering. Unfortunately, many of us slide into “compassion fatigue.” We hear stories so frequently, it becomes increasingly easy to drown it out. That’s an urge we must fight. We should strive to listen so we can know how to care. We should dare to open up our own horizons and perspectives and seek connection, compassion and mutually healthy interdependence.
Often the primary need for any refugee is to tell his or her story. It begins the healing process for the person and, if heard, begins to compel compassion from the listener.
At this point, however, it is critical to listen and ask what the refugees’ needs truly are. The best of intentions can go awry if the wrong type of aid and support are offered. Refugees have needs that are physical, mental, emotional, academic, legal, and spiritual. If we are to address these effectively, we must communicate and include the refugee in our refugee aid.
Refugees are as human as we are. They have witnessed horrors that most of us, however, will never understand or comprehend. They hurt, cry, need, and seek relationship like the rest of us. At the apex of it all, God made each of us in His image. We are related one to another.
Do you know a refugee? Have you sought them to build a relationship? That is their heart’s desire just as it is yours. Take that first step and join in life with them.