On World Refugee Day
Thursday 20 June 2013
On World Refugee Day we are urged to remember the millions of people who have been forced from their homes and homelands, out into a world that is unfamiliar, frightening and dangerous. This year we are especially asked to consider the impact on families who must care for each other despite having left behind every source of comfort and security. Under these desperate pressures families can find themselves pulled apart, creating deep suffering that doesn’t just hurt now, but wounds generations to come.
Providing sanctuary to the stranger has always been a core Christian value. Every day churches around the world care for people who have been forced into becoming ‘strangers’. They offer a welcome to people who have been robbed of their homes, their societies and their cultures.
Local faith communities are often the first to respond in humanitarian crises. They bring blankets, food and offers of shelter – and they remain after international agencies have left. Amid disorientating chaos, churches and mosques become coordination points, places that people trust. We see this in Syria, where churches on the ground are helping with efforts to relieve the profound suffering there.
Religious leaders also do essential work in advocating for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. In this country, the Church of England campaigned against young people being kept in UK detention centres. Being embedded in local communities, churches can provide vital support networks and legal assistance for asylum seekers.
Humanitarian crises are becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. Climate change and food scarcity are combining with growing regional instability and – again, we think of Syria – political failure to build peace. All of this makes ordinary families ever-more vulnerable to forces far beyond their control.
So there is an urgent need for international humanitarian agencies and local religious groups to work more closely together to help those who are suffering. Last week it was very encouraging to see religious leaders launch a document reaffirming their commitment to refugees – and I hope and pray that this commitment grows stronger.
As Christians, now more than ever, we must be ready to offer the love of Christ to all those enduring the tragedy of being a stranger.
Read the document ‘Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders’ launched recently in Geneva
Read about a new research project with Lambeth Palace and other partners to collect data on humanitarian work by churches and communicate this to policymakers
Author: Justin Welby