It is June 20, World Refugee Day. Near the Mexico-U.S. border, thousands of people are waiting. Fleeing conflict and violence in their own countries, they are seeking safety. Reports emerge of refugee children being detained and separated from their parents, who are also locked up. These families are torn apart by a policy of “zero tolerance” for so-called “illegal immigrants.”
Public shock and outrage at this desperate situation extend way beyond that border. In many places, tender-hearted people are grieving, ranting and wondering, “What can I do about this injustice?”
Worldwide, the numbers of people who have been forcibly displaced are at a record high of almost 69 million people, according to the United Nations. These people do not leave home on a whim; they flee because they fear persecution, injury and death if they stay. For many, the journey from danger has been long and risky. They seek asylum, a safe haven.
Asylum seekers hope to receive protection and legal status in a new place. Standards of international human rights consider this a legitimate request. Everyone has the right to live free of danger and persecution. It is not illegal to seek asylum, and human decency requires that people who claim protection under the law should not see their families split apart.
At the end of 2017, there were approximately 3.1 million people around the world waiting for a decision on their asylum claims. Closer to home, asylum seekers in Canada (also called refugee claimants) rose significantly last year to 47,800 claims. Some of them have come by a circuitous route, believing that, in Canada, they will find a safe home.
As Christians we should heed the biblical injunction to welcome the stranger and protect the powerless (Deut. 10:18-19). This is our act of devotion to Jesus himself, who said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt. 25:35-36).
A few things we can do:
- Pray for the decision makers. Around the world, leaders make decisions that create situations of danger from which people flee. Decision makers approve policies that target asylum seekers as criminals to be expelled. We can pray for leaders who have the power either to welcome asylum seekers into their countries, or to refuse them the chance of a safe home.
- Look for the helpers. The beloved TV host Mr. Rogers suggested a response to situations of danger and fear. Rather than dwelling in despair, he encouraged young and old to pay attention to the “helpers,” the people working to repair and restore. For example, check out the work of Citizens for Public Justice (www.cpj.ca), an ecumenical organization that works to educate the public, especially churches, on refugee legislation in Canada.
- Support the refugees close to home. Once individuals and families have received official refugee status, they need support to settle into new home communities. Organizations like Mennonite Central Committee (www.mcc.org) are seeking volunteers, donors and sponsors to help refugees make new lives for themselves in Canada. Consider how you as an individual can help, and encourage your neighbourhood or church to support a refugee family in your community.
- Pray for all who seek a safe home. We pray that the Lord of Mercy, who was himself once a refugee, will protect and comfort those who flee danger. May God put people of goodwill in their path; may we help them find a safe home.
Introducing Aaron Epp, Young Voices Editor
Based in Winnipeg, Aaron is a journalist with more than 10 years of experience. From 2007 to 2009, he was Canadian Mennonite’s national correspondent, and since June 2013 he has written for, and edited, the magazine’s Young Voices section. Aaron also writes a weekly column about volunteerism for the Winnipeg Free Press. In his free time, he enjoys listening to music, reading, watching movies and trying to perfect his pizza-making skills. He attends Hope Mennonite Church.