1. The U.N. Launched World Refugee Day in 2001
In 2001, the United Nations dubbed June 20 World Refugee Day, which marked the 50 year anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This year’s theme is #WithRefugees and emphasizes sending a message to governments “that they must work together and do their fair share for refugees.” The U.N. has scripted a petition to governments that implores them to:
Ensure every refugee child gets an education.
Ensure every refugee family has somewhere safe to live.
Ensure every refugee can work or learn new skills to make a positive contribution to their community.
2. We’re Facing the Worst Refugee Crisis in History
According to a Reuters article, “A record 65.3 million people were uprooted worldwide last year.” That means “1 in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee, asylum-seeker or internally displaced” person. The welcome these refugees are facing varies significantly, although Reuters reports that many of the people fleeing wars go on to “face walls, tougher laws and xenophobia” in the countries to which they run.
In the U.S., we are admitting the most refugees from Myanmar (Burma), the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia (Pew Research). While the U.S. historically has not admitted “mass” amounts of refugees, after the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., the number of refugees we have admitted has declined dramatically.
The Obama administration set a goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. from 2015-2016. According to Pew, so far only about 2,800 Syrians have settled in the States. Syria is by far the worst country in terms of displaced people. Pew reports an unprecedented 6 in 10 Syrians are displaced from their homes.
3. The Church Is Responding (but Hesitantly)
There have been several discussions among American Evangelical leaders on how to best address the refugee crisis without compromising our security as a nation. Despite our fears, the general sentiment in the church has been, “Let’s do what we can to help. That is what Jesus would do.”
This is in contrast to Donald Trump’s call to implement a temporary ban on the entry of Muslims into the U.S. Trump has convinced some Evangelical leaders on this point, including Franklin Graham.
However, during a panel discussion sponsored by the ERLC in December 2015, Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy for World Relief, allayed some fears by explaining “most of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees World Relief has resettled in this country are women and children. Only 2 percent of the refugees arriving from that region are military-aged men.”
Joseph Rose, a Christian worker who has ministered to refugees in the Middle East, implored the church not to “waste this opportunity to reach out to a suffering people and to share with them the Good News of Jesus Christ….Let us not allow fear to cripple us or to repress the Great Commission mandate we have been given to make Jesus followers of all peoples.”
Russell Moore, the head of the ERLC, has also gone on record a number of times denouncing government interference in the rights of any religious group—including Muslims. In its recent Annual Meeting, the SBC reinforced Moore’s sentiments and also urged its members to offer refugees “care, compassion and the gospel.”
4. Here’s How You (and Your Church) Can Get Involved in Relief Work for Refugees
Even if you’re not surrounded by refugees in your city, there are many things you can do to help. Organizations like World Vision and World Relief provide excellent material on their websites with practical ways you can rally your congregation, pray for refugees’ specific needs and even contact your senator or congressman about political issues affecting refugees.
If you’re in a city with refugees, the possibilities are even greater. Simply talking to them, as you see them on the bus, waiting in line at the grocery store, etc. can be a huge blessing to someone in a foreign country who has just fled theirs for one reason or another. If you know refugees in your neighborhood, invite them over for dinner and listen to their story.
You can also help shift the conversation about refugees away from fear tactics and misinformation and toward the truth and the gospel. As Yang explained in the ERLC panel discussion, “The rhetoric currently being used regarding Muslims has ‘real ramifications’ on refugees.” You can help frame the conversation by informing yourself of the facts, and pointing others toward the truth. One way to do this is to verify what you share on social media is coming from a credible source—especially as it pertains to refugees.
Let us remember the world’s refugees as we go about the work of ministry from now until we see an end to this crisis.