Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Displaced Persons 2018

One of the few facts I recall from Peter Damian’s Life of St Romuald (whose feast we celebrate today) is that he was a kind of monastic itinerant. His zeal for reform meant that he was constantly either abandoning the monastery he had entered as being too lax or being forced from it by monks unhappy with his efforts to make them adopt a more austere manner of life. Eventually, he established the distinctive form of monasticism we now know as the Calmaldolese but  I have often wondered about those years of constant disruption and movement. Benedictines have such a strong sense of place, of being rooted in it, that the idea of endless wandering, of never having a home, so to say, is quite alien. The latest report from the U.N. Refugee Agency therefore makes very sobering reading. It estimates that there are now 40 million internally displaced persons, 25.4 million refugees (19.9 million under the UNHCR mandate, 5.4 million Palestinian refugees registered by UNRWA) and 3.1 million asylum seekers, an unprecedented total of 68.5 million people forced from their homes. More than half the refugees (57%) come from just three countries: South Sudan (2.4 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million) and, overwhelmingly, Syria (6.3 million). Their numbers are always growing. Approximately 44,400 people are forced to flee their homes because of violence or persecution every day. That is one person every two seconds.

After a while, the statistics begin to be numbing. We have to make a conscious effort to realise that there is a human face behind every number, that over half the world’s refugees are under eighteen years of age and have little or no experience of being safe, having a home, an identity other than that of unwelcome burden on their host country. What is life like for them? How do they perceive the world in which they live? My guess is that it is cold and uncaring. There are currently 3.5 million refugees in Turkey alone, but rarely do we hear about their living conditions or the efforts being made to give them a sense of security. Instead of Christ’s words, ‘I was a stranger and you made me welcome’ we hear of attempts to limit numbers, turn people back, suspicion and hostility. At one level, that is understandable. It is usually those who are themselves vulnerable who have the closest contact with refugees and asylum seekers and are sometimes wary of what may result. But politicians often stoke up the fears because it is vote-catching. After all, it is easy to appear strong by tyrannising the weak.

I suspect most of us will respond to Refugee Week by making a donation to an appropriate agency and praying for all who are affected, but I wonder how many of us will mull over the U.N. Refugee Agency report and examine our own attitudes to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. It can be surprising, even shocking, to realise that even the most ‘liberal’ of us sometimes harbour prejudices and fears we would be reluctant to admit. I come back to St Romuald again. One of the practices he urged on his followers was the constant praying of the psalms. They contain a whole pattern of life: they make us humble, they show us our shortcomings, and they give us hope. Of all these, perhaps hope is what we most need.

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4 thoughts on “Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Displaced Persons 2018

  1. I am lucky enough to work with some refugee families and it made me, at first, rethink many of my ideas and opinions – and will admit there were/are prejudices. I will turn to the Psalms today and pray for all involved in the worldwide crisis around refugees and their treatment by governments, agencies and individuals.

  2. The Dear Lord asked us to love our neighbours as ourselves. The way we treat refugees, asylum seekers, displaced persons and economic migrants is abysmal to say the least. Fascism is beginning to raise its nasty head again all over Europe on the back of stigmatizing those seeking a better and safer life away from the hunger, misery, death and destruction prevalent in Africa and the Middle East.
    The world’s leading politicians need to be urgently devising and implementing policies that tackle at source the root of the problems forcing those to flee their countries. Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin need to be doing more in persuading the world’s leaders of the need to help the devastated nations look after their people.
    The world doesn’t need wars, drugs or exploitation of the weak and vulnerable. It needs love, good governance, peace and stability. An end to walls, cages, hatred and a lack of concern or love for those less fortunate than ourselves.

  3. This is an overwhelming and heartbreaking situation. It is tempting to become numb or to block it out. Thank you for keeping this issue and the very real people who are living in these circumstances front and center.

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