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World Refugee Day – Beyond the Numbers

June 20, 2019

By Suzanne Rumsey

70.8 million. It’s a staggering number and one that keeps growing. Last year it was 68.5 million; a decade ago it was 43.3 million. Never in human history have so many people in the world been displaced from their homes by conflict, climate change, political and other forms of persecution and violence.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis, to want to turn away from the images of the migrant caravans at the Mexico/U.S. border or the vast refugee camps of the Middle East and Africa, or the boatloads of people adrift in the Mediterranean. But each of those 70.8 million people has a name and a story, a longing for safety and for home.

At a meeting last month of the PWRDF Refugee Network in Victoria, B.C., the Refugee Coordinators from the 15 Anglican dioceses that hold Private Sponsorship Agreements with the Government of Canada, met to network, share information and strategize for meetings that followed with officials from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). They spoke of challenges in the face of increased monitoring and quality assurance requirements from the government, even as the wave that began in 2015 with the Syrian refugee crisis continues unabated. But they also spoke about being at the airport, together with members of sponsoring parishes to welcome refugee families to their new home in Canada.

Earlier this month, an emerging network, the Anglican Alliance Working Group on Migration, met by video conference to share information and learn from one another about migration and refugee situations and church-based responses to them in Vanuatu, South Pacific, in Ethiopia, Jordan, and Venezuela. One of those members, Episcopal Migration Ministries, has produced a video featuring Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, for World Refugee Day. In it, he speaks about the biblical imperative to “welcome the stranger.”

Since its beginnings 60 years ago, PWRDF has been among those Anglican development and relief agencies seeking to accompany and support refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). That response has taken a variety of forms, from emergency shelter and food assistance to meet immediate needs, as PWRDF has done in Jordan and Lebanon with Syrian refugees and in Bangladesh with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, to providing training and livelihood supports to those in situations of protracted, at times generational, displacement such as Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, and with Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in southern India. Here in Canada, PWRDF is a member of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) a national network of refugee-serving agencies that advocates with and on behalf of refugees, in addition to bringing together annually, the Anglican Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAHs), also known as the PWRDF Refugee Network.

But perhaps most important, is the long-term development work that PWRDF carries out with partners throughout the world who strive to strengthen and uphold resilient communities and in so doing, mitigate against those factors that create displacement in the first place, be it food insecurity caused by climate change or lack of adequate health care services or livelihood options, or gender-based violence.

The PWRDF Refugee Network members concluded their time together with a prayer from the Liturgy for Human Rights Sunday prepared by the Christian Conference of Asia and the Uniting Church of Australia:

As they face this day, O God,
Find those who are lost,
Separated from those they love,
Crossing unknown borders,
Without a country or home,
Not knowing where to turn:
Find them, God who seeks for the lost,
And cover them safely as a hen covers her chicks.

As they face this day, O God,
Stand among the ones in refugee camps around the world,
In hunger and despair,
In the crowds and the emptiness,
In the wet and the thirstiness:
Be their hope and their strength
In the crying out for justice
And open the ears of the world to hear their cries.

As they face this day, O God,
May those who live with us,
Uprooted from their homelands,
Find a new home
Where their history is respected,
Their gifts and graces celebrated
And their fear is departed from them.
May we be their home,
May we be the ones who open our hearts in welcome.

As we face this day, O God,
Sing to us your song of encouragement,
Paint for us your bright pictures of a new world
Where people need not flee from wars and oppression,
Where no one lacks a country or a home
And where we are all part of your new creation.
For we long to be your people, in spirit and in truth.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ,
Who knew the life of a refugee.

Amen.