There is something common among 12-year-old Jouri from Syria; 31-year-old Shakila from Afghanistan; 16-year-old three-month pregnant Eva from Sudan; and 40-year-old Nadir Ahmad from Myanmar. They are all refugees who left their hearth and home to eke out a living in unfamiliar terrains in various parts of the globe. They were forced to leave behind their native land due to diverse reasons: religious persecution; ethnic clashes and cleansing; attacks by terrorist groups; fight between government and rebel forces; and so on and so forth. Statistics put that as many as 24 people are forced to flee their homes every minute across the world. That is 34,000 people a day. According to official figures, there are 65 million refugees in the world who have left everything behind in the hope of finding safety and a better tomorrow and moved to unknown lands.
In most cases, the refugees are unable to return to the land of their origin as the situation that forced their exit has not changed or they are afraid to do so. Many of them lead a penniless and perilous life. They live in camps in pathetic conditions. In some cases, they face the ire of the local people who look down upon them with cynicism. Their camps are burnt; their children are trafficked; their women face assault and harassment. There is also ‘official’ atmosphere of hostility towards them. A recent example is that of the Rohingya, fleeing persecution in Myanmar, who faced a hostile administration and people in India. Many countries in Europe too are not receptive to refugees for reasons like cynicism over the behaviour of those coming mostly from Muslim nations.
In this background of countries’ unwilling to open their borders to the fleeing refugees, the UN observation of Refugee Day on June 20 becomes relevant. At the heart of this campaign is a commitment to ensure that every refugee family has somewhere safe to live; that every refugee can work or learn new skills to support their families; that every refugee child gets education; that every refugee finds a place where one can live with dignity.
The Church has taken a compassionate stance which was elucidated by Pope Francis who urged the world not to abdicate its responsibility but to positively respond to the cries of the forcibly displaced and excluded. Last year he had appealed to the world to welcome, protect, promote and integrate refugees and migrants. The best solution to the unprecedented refugee crisis would be to look at them as victims of vicissitudes and to not turn our back on them. Refugees who knock at our doors do so out of circumstances beyond their control. Allowing them to die as they do not belong to ‘our caste, community or religion’ would be the biggest cruelty inflicted on them. No one takes to waters if their land was safe; no one crosses the borders if their side of the land was not cruel to them; and no one moves to unfamiliar territories if their own territory had not pushed them out. Let these thoughts fill our hearts on this Day earmarked for them.(Published on 18th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 25)