The painful and frightening pictures and stories which are shown of refugees from Syria, in particular at present, have made me think about refugees overall. There have been refugees moving from one country to another for thousands of years. In fact, even Adam and Eve could be considered refugees as they were forced to leave their ‘country’, the Garden of Eden!
According to the Geneva Convention on Refugees, “A refugee is a person who is outside their country of citizenship because they have well-founded grounds for fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and is unable to obtain sanctuary.”
“Climate refugees are those displaced from their homes due to climate change-induced disasters such as flood and drought as well as slow-creeping crises such as sea-level rise.” Noah fled the flood, didn’t he?
But for me the definition of a refugee is ‘a person in pain.’ Now, not all people in pain are refugees but all refugees are people in pain, I am fairly certain. That is possibly one reason why God told us to “…show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels…” (Heb 13:1-2)
As I wrote at the start of this article, refugees have been a part of the settled world for thousands of years. Returning to Biblical times a number of people can be considered to be refugees. These are just a few examples.
- Abram, later know as Abraham, was told to leave his country and go to a distant country unknown to him.
- Jacob and his whole family had to go to Egypt due to the famine.
- Moses had to flee from Egypt to Midian
- Jesus and his parents had to flee to Egypt because of Herod’s call to kill all boys under the age of 2 years
Then there were whole groups of people who had to flee or were taken captive into foreign lands.
- The Israelites were taken captive in 740BC and were refugees in Babylon for 70 years
- Up 200 000 Huguenots, French Protestants, had to flee from France in 1685 to other European countries.
- For 150 years, from 1783, between 5 and 7 million Muslim refugees fled to Turkey from Bosnia, 15 000 Turkish-Cypriots fled Cyprus when Britain took over rule and thousands arrived from Crimea, Greece, Romania and other Balkan countries adding significantly to the Turkish population.
Whether fleeing war, persecution, genocide or climate change damage, being a refugee must be a painful and heart-breaking experience. They leave home with little more than the clothes on their backs. In addition, they generally have to walk long distances and sleep in the open as they make their way towards what they believe to be safety and security.
Not withstanding all these difficulties when fleeing, the women, I believe, have much more to cope with. The hardships of walking and sleeping on the road can be overcome to a large degree but how do pregnant women, especially those in the third trimester, cope with these hardships? What about women with very small children or women and teenage girls who have a period during this time of flight? There is limited, if any, opportunity to clean and refresh themselves.
What should and could we be doing to assist them rather than repeat the calls for them to be ‘sent back’. It is interesting that some of the countries calling for the refugees to be sent back are countries whose citizens were refugees some time in history and if they had simply been sent back, there could have been greater catastrophes than those from which they had fled in the first place.
So, back to the question, “What should we be doing for refugees?” For me the Bible gives us very clear instructions. There are probably similar instructions in other books and manuals but this is the best reference I have.
- Moses gives God’s law: “You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and the alien (Lev 19:9-10 & 23:22)
- Be a refuge to the outcasts(Is 16:4)
- Do no wrong or violence to the alien (Jer 22:3-5)
- “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:31-46)
- “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…” We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:7-21)
What more we can add to this?