BBC reports that the number of displaced people is at an all-time high. There are floods and earthquakes demolishing peoples’ homes, but that’s not the real problem, in spite of the deep suffering natural disasters cause.
The real problems are human made. People are fleeing the persecution that follows the features of their face, as in the case of Hazara peoples in Afghanistan, or the beliefs they hold about the shape of a government. They will do everything in their power to move out of a war zone where death is more common than rain. They understandably want to move out of a county where a brother is hanged for becoming a Christian.
What mother wants to raise her children in a place where children are abducted simply because they are girls? What man can stand to stay in a county where his parents and relatives were burned to death because they changed religion?
What truly strikes me as tragic, though, is that numbness of mind and death of heart are considered less tragic and less compelling than physical death.
Migrants risking the waters between north Africa and southern Europe or between Myanmar and Malaysia are not going because they think it will be a nice few days on the open seas. It is certainly true that they are sometimes tricked or forced to get on boats by nefarious people smugglers, but more often than not they are just desperate to find a humane place to live.
One African woman interviewed by American radio station NPR said she wanted to get to Spain because it seems like heaven. If she got there, she thought, she could be a little bit closer to God–or at least a little further from hell.
There is nothing frivolous about leaving a place because it is hopeless. Why would she, or any other young woman, want to stay in a country where she has no hope of finding any paid work beyond prostitution? What about the woman with a master’s in civil engineering who can’t find work at home except for selling bread?
What teenage boy would want to live in a place where there is no hope of going to school, getting a diploma or any training, and getting a job so he could someday marry and provide for a family?
Governments and citizens in more affluent countries often dismiss “economic” asylum-seekers — those seeking education and jobs — as mere opportunists. While we must recognize the very complicated problems associated with job creation and the need to protect the employment of citizens in any country, it seems like there is room to discuss the problem of hopelessness and at least try to solve it.
Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day. Today is as good a day as any to say a prayer or make a contribution or send a letter to an influential person in your government on behalf of refugees. It will only take a minute and most importantly, it will take a fraction of your good fortune, whether financial or based on the gift that you can read and write, or in the fact that you have a voice in your government. Today is a good day to share our good fortune and bring a little more hope into the world.