Monday, 30 September 2013

Refugees and Sojourners

Syrian-refugees-2203532How would it feel to gather your most important belongings, pack them into a duffel bag or two and set out, possibly on foot, to a completely unfamiliar place, perhaps even in another country. When you arrived to wherever it was you were going, you might find yourself in a stifling, tent city filled with hundreds or thousands of other strangers and the stench of human waste and decay all around you. Maybe --if you are fortunate--you have access to meager supplies of basic food and limited water (possibly not very clean), but no electricity and scant medical care at best. You might find yourself sleeping out in the open air, exposed to the elements, with bugs and other dangers. If you are lucky, you might have a blanket or mat to sleep on.




You spend your days wondering if you’ll ever return to the home you knew--or if it will even be there if you do. There is next to no employment and not much to do to help pass the long days, except to survive. You spend much of the day worrying about your family and what’s going to happen to everyone. Sometimes you feel afraid for your life or the lives and safety of your loved ones. You feel such a deep sense of hopelessness and sadness that some days you wonder how long you can hold on.

While the national spotlight in the U.S. is focused on the Obama administration's proposed military intervention against the Syrian government, between 5,000 to 6,000 refugees are leaving Syria each day, fleeing mostly to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. Every 15 seconds, a Syrian becomes a refugee, and those witnessing the violence unfolding on the ground don't believe that military action against the regime would bring relief.[1]  By the count of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number who have left Syria and registered with the Commission since the war began now exceeds two million people. Perhaps even more disheartening is the fact that 52 percent of them are 17 years old or younger, and of those, 740,000 are under age 11.[2]

Given the ever-changing situation, estimates obviously vary, but the UNHCR says there could be 3.5 million refugees by the end of year, or 16 percent of the Syria’s total population. And there's more somber news: another 4.25 to 4.5 million people have been forcibly displaced inside Syria, meaning that more than 6 million people have been torn from their homes in their own country.

Syrian refugees are not alone. Below are several of the other most populous refugee camps found throughout the world as reported by the UNHCR as of September 2, 2013:

1. Dadaab, Kenya is a complex of five camps hosting 402,361 people, mostly from neighboring Somalia.

2. Dollo Ado, Ethiopia is a complex of five camps housing 198,462 people, most of whom are Somalis fleeing the drought and famine in their home country. Many of them are forced to sleep out in the open due to lack of basic aid.

3. Kakuma, Kenya holds a total of 124,814 Somali and Sudanese refugees.

4. Jabalia, Gaza Strip hosts nearly 110,000 Palestinian refugees.[3]

Oftentimes the refugees arrive at these camps with little more than the clothes they are wearing. Also disturbing is that many of the refugees escaping their homelands find themselves in a different sort of danger: rape and violent attacks are common, while essential needs such as food, water, shelter, and medicine are sparse to non-existent in some places.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees said that, "Syria has become the great tragedy of this century; a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history," The United Nations has said that more than 100,000 people, including many civilians, have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising spiraled into a civil war in 2011.[1]

It is difficult to consider these facts or to see the frightened, hopeless faces of those fleeing the violence in their homelands for unknown places. Yet, at the same time, there is solace in knowing that Almighty God Jehovah will someday make right the situations such as this one, once and for all. Psalm 146:1, 7-10 (NKJV) says, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! Who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down. The Lord shall reign forever—Your God, O Zion, to all generations...”

Perhaps you haven’t considered things from this angle, but all who look forward to the perfect new kingdom are really just sojourners in this life, too, in much the same way as the Israelites were when they traveled through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

In Hebrews 11:13, 16 Paul wrote this about people who had lived before: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”  We, too, should realize that we are just passing through this temporary life--refugees of sorts--in an evil world, but on the way to a perfect, everlasting paradise ordered by Jehovah and his Son.




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