Which countries received the most claims for asylum in 2019?
“The USA (301,000), Peru (259,800), Germany (142,500), France (123,900), Spain (118,300), Brazil (82,500) Greece (74,900), Mexico (70,400), Costa Rica (59,200) and Canada (58,400).” *Source
If one were to believe some media reports and political rhetoric, North America is being overrun by asylum-seekers. The truth is that compared to the larger movement of people around the world, comparatively few people are making it to the West, and the USA and Canada are mostly shielded from the refugee crisis.
Volker Turk, in charge of refugee protection for the UN, has said that “Canada's recent spike in irregular migrants is nothing compared to the millions of refugees who pour every year into much poorer countries.” Remember this when you hear someone in the media, over social media, or even around the family Christmas table start talking about the “vast tides” of refugees coming into our country.
Also remember the Biblical mandate to provide hospitality. Hebrews 13:2 instructs the reader to "not neglect hospitality to the stranger, for some have even entertained angels without knowing it." It is possible he was thinking here of the story of Abraham welcoming angels-in-disguise on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.
I like to think of the multiple times Angels are “welcomed”, or at least encountered, in the Nativity story, from the announcement of John’s birth to Zechariah; to Gabriel hailing Mary with the pregnancy news; to the dual messages to Joseph about accepting Jesus and fleeing to Egypt; to the warning given to the Magi about Herod; to the angelic throng scaring the shepherds half to death. In each case the angels announced something that was difficult but good and required action from the human characters in the story.
We don’t need a full-blown angelic visitation to tell us to practice hospitality. We have already been called by divine command to welcome the stranger. It is not always easy to find the best way to do this, but it is good, and requires our action.
Read: Luke 1:5-20, 26-38, 2:8-14; Matthew 1:20-25, 2:12-13, 19-20. Hebrews 13:1-3.
Ask God for opportunities to give hospitality to the stranger.
Pray for our Open Homes Hamilton hosts, who are supporting refugee claimants with home-based hospitality.
Ask God to prepare your heart, your home, and your community to welcome people who are coming into your city and neighbourhood.
48% of the world's refugees are women and girls. *Source
Women and girls who are refugees face a particular kind of vulnerability and violence. Rape is used as a terror tactic around the world and throughout history. In refugee camps in Bangladesh they are seeing up to 60 children born a day, because “an estimated 90% of female Rohingya refugees were raped during the Burmese Military takeover of Rakhine State around nine months ago.” This is a Crime Against Humanity to which the world must respond. **Source
But it is important to emphasise that this is not the beginning or end of the story of refugee women and girls. It is too easy to simply highlight the dangers they are facing and to paint them solely as victims, or as problems to be sorted. Refugee women and girls are not “problems”. The Brave Global Campaign, an initiative to reach vulnerable girls around the world, affirms that “girls are the solution not the problem.”
The Nativity Story illustrates this in a unique and surprising way. Most of us tend to skip over, or at least race through, the genealogies that are scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. We don’t get them, the names are difficult to pronounce, and it seems difficult to extract any devotional meaning from them. We finally get to the New Testament, thrilled that these long incomprehensible lists are over and done with, but surprise! Matthew 1 kicks everything off with another recitation of begats and begots.
Pay attention though, because this genealogy is strange. It includes women, which was not normal. In fact, it includes five women, four of whom are named, four of whom were “foreign”, and all of whom were tainted with some kind of sexual scandal. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba, so scandalous they could not even write out the name) and Mary. All women included and essential to the story of Jesus, just as the women he interacts with during his life are included and essential. In certain histories of Israel these women would be highlighted as part of the problem to be fixed, but here they are part of the solution. The line from Abraham to David to Jesus does not happen without them. Women are front and central, Scripture is saying, in the Gospel story of Jesus.
We can help change the narrative around refugee women and girls from that of “victims” to that of “brave”, “strong,” “resilient”, “creative”, “wise” and “essential”. They are not the problem, they are the solution to the problem, so let’s learn to think and act that way.
Read: Matthew 1:1-17. Consider looking up the individual stories of the women in the genealogy as well.
Pray for the women and girls in your life, thanking God for them.
Pray for the Rohingya women in the camps.
Pray for the forcibly displaced Acholi and South Sudanese women I Live Again Uganda is ministering to, as they deal with Covid-related shutdowns, increasing the danger of gender-based violence at home.
And read here a story of refugee women in Kenya who are very clearly part of the solution.
Advent Day 12 – Children at Risk
“Refugee and migrant children are particularly vulnerable to violence….
It was estimated in 2016 that three quarters of children aged 14-17 years arriving in Italy through the Mediterranean route had been subject to exploitative practices, such as being held or forced to work against their will. Data showed that in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa, children represented over 60 percent of trafficking victims.” *
Refugee and internally displaced children are especially vulnerable to exploiters .
This situation, and the above statistics, should remind us of Psalm 10:
In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”
His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”
Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
When the children around Bethlehem were killed by Herod’s command, a wail went up in the land. It called to mind the cry of the parents whose children were lost during the siege of Jerusalem and subsequent exile in Jeremiah’s time. We too should lament the exploitation of children in the world today, and pledge to work for justice and safety.
Read: Jeremiah 31:1-17; Matthew 2:16-23
Pray: Join Jeremiah and Rachel in mourning the experience of exploited children in our world. Add your tears to theirs.
* “Faith Action for Children on the Move,” Global Partners Forum, General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Oct 2018.
“Unaccompanied/separated children on the move are on the rise: 300,000 applied for asylum in 2015-2016, an increase from 66,000 children recorded in 2010-2011.” *
Be silent for a moment and consider:
One of the biggest fears parents have is lost children.
Imagine children having to face the trials of a refugee on their own.
Imagine children being forcibly separated from their parents as a result of war, terror, or government policy.
As difficult as it is for adults to face the uncertainty, threat and danger of life as a refugee, for children it can be much worse. Hundreds of thousands of children around the world have been separated from their families and are applying for asylum on their own. As a parent I can hardly imagine anything more troubling to my spirit than my children walking through these difficulties on their own.
There are numerous Biblical stories which detail the plight of vulnerable children. One thinks of the story of Moses, born under a death penalty, placed in a basket and set adrift alone along a river in with the impossible hope of rescue and deliverance. And then there is the tableau of Hagar and Ishmael, which is surely one of the most desperate scenarios in Scripture. Hagar is cruelly sent out into the desert with her son, Abraham’s first boy Ishmael, because their existence threatens the inheritance of Sarah’s son, Isaac. They are given minimal resources, and when these are exhausted Hagar leaves the child under some bushes and goes far enough away so she doesn’t have to watch him die.
It is not difficult to imagine parents around the world wondering, like Moses’ mother, about the safety of their refugee children, or hoping, like Hagar, that at least they won’t have to watch their children die. And there are many more children who have been made refugees because their families succumbed to violence. They are truly alone.
The story of Hagar and Ishmael does not end in despair. God hears the cry of the child and provides water for him and his mother. God is with Ishmael as he grows, and he becomes the father of a great nation. God hears, God sees, God provides, and God accompanies. Today we can be part of the answer to many prayers if we too hear the cries, see the unaccompanied children in need, and help provide. See this website more info on how you can help.
Read: Genesis 21:8-21
Pray: Pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to be moved for the unaccompanied refugee children in our world today.
* “Faith Action for Children on the Move,” Global Partners Forum, General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Oct 2018
“As of 2017, 30 million children lived outside their country of birth. By the end of 2015, there were 17 million internally displaced children (most because of violence and conflict).” *
Be silent for a moment and consider:
Were there times during your childhood when you faced serious uncertainty and the lack of security?
How did it feel? Did that experience have a lasting impact on you?
Herod’s ordering of the death of male children around Bethlehem is historically called “The Massacre of the Innocents,” and it has its own special day of commemoration in the Christian calendar (Dec 28). There are no secular accounts of this massacre however, likely because the number of murdered children would have been quite small. The population of Bethlehem at the time was probably around 300 people, and the number of male children two years old or younger might have been anywhere from 6 to 20. **
This does not mean it was not a massacre. The death of 6 to 20 children – the violent death of even one child – should cause us to lament. (Recall the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2014.) So should the numbers of refugee and internally displaced children in our world today. Children bear the brunt of violence, economic scarcity, and political and social decisions over which they have no understanding or control.
Read: Matthew 2:1-18
Do a prayer walk for your local schools and child care centres.
Pray for protection, safety, and thriving for the children who attend.
Pray as well for the refugee and internally displaced children around the world.
Pray that they might be cared for and protected and treasured.
*“Faith Action for Children on the Move,” Global Partners Forum, General Curia of the Society of Jesus, Oct 2018.
50% of the world's refugees are under 18 years old. *Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
How do you think the refugee experience might be different for a child than for an adult?
The picture of the two-year-old boy lying drowned on a beach in September of 2015 galvanised the world for a moment. Abdullah and Rehanna Kurdi, along with their children Ghalib and Alan, had traveled from Syria to Turkey, and were now trusting smugglers to get them across the Mediterranean Sea in a flimsy dinghy, the only form of transport they could afford. They were ultimately trying to get to Vancouver, BC, to a life that was safe and hopeful.
The family’s application for sponsorship had been officially denied, so this was seen as the only possible way out. The dinghy was overloaded to twice its capacity and capsized five minutes off the coast of Turkey. Rehanna, Ghalib and Alan all drowned.
Alan was certainly not the first refugee child to die on the journey, not even the only one to die that day. But the heart-rending photo of his little body sparked something in our collective conscience. “This is happening? In this day and age? To children?” Yes, and has been happening for a long time, and continues to happen.
We should remember that in the Nativity story, Mary is most likely of the age that we would consider a child, and Jesus was obviously an infant. And almost all the other children mentioned in the Biblical narrative die. This is not just a sentimental story best suited for eggnog and warm family moments around the fireplace. This is a story that resonates with the fear and vulnerability that the refugee children of our world face every day.
As we remember the name of Jesus at this Advent time, let us also remember the names of Ghalib and Alan Kurdi, and let us call to mind the millions of other children who make up more than half of all the refugees in our world.
Read: Luke 1:39-43.
Also consider reading The Boy on the Beach, a personal account of the tragedy by Alan and Ghalib’s aunt, Tima Kurdi. A foundation for helping other refugee children in their name can be found here.
Pray: Pray for the protection and safety of the children in your family, the children in your community and neighbourhood, and the children who right now are on the move around the world.
Pray for our international partners, the African Hope Learning Centre, and Beirut Nazarene Church, as they seek to help African refugee children who've fled to Cairo and Syrian refugee children who've fled to Beirut.
There were 10 million “stateless persons” in the world as of 2017. “Stateless persons are not considered as nationals by any State under the operation of its law. In other words, they do not possess the nationality of any State. Many refugees are at risk of becoming stateless.” *Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
What would it be like to have no state? To be under no state’s protection? To have no official “nationality”?
The Bible makes such a big, and consistent, emphasis on widows, orphans and sojourners because they were in a particularly vulnerable position. They were fatherless, without protection, without the rights and privileges of someone who was part of the nation. If they were abused or taken advantage of, who would know? Who would care? Who would defend?
The Bible answers: God knows. God cares. God will defend. And what’s more, God requires his people to know, to care, to defend.
The story of Ruth is a literary masterpiece telling the surprising story of a foreign woman without protection. The narrator repeats multiple times that she is a Moabitess, not an official part of the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy 23:3 instructs: “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation,” so Ruth is officially unwelcome in Israel. But she also gave up her claim to Moab when she told Naomi: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.”
Woven throughout this story is how dangerous this situation is for Ruth, economically, socially, and physically. Naomi warns her to be careful, and Boaz specifically instructs his fieldworkers to help her and not to abuse her. Near the end of the story she is rejected by a man who should have offered her protection, leaving her once again exposed to danger and ruin. But this is not the end of the story. Boaz is faithful, and he sees the goodness, kindness and nobility of Ruth. He receives her not as a burden but as a blessing. She is faithful to Israel’s covenant, even when the Israelites were not, and through the marriage to Boaz she is brought into the full covenant blessing of the nation.
The closing sentences of the story tells us that Ruth, the Moabitess, is part of the line of King David, which also means she is a direct ancestor of Jesus. The Nativity of Jesus is incomplete without the inclusion of Ruth, a “stateless” woman.
Pray: Ask God to help you see stateless people – and all displaced and vulnerable people – not as burdens but as blessings. Pray that your nation would see the same thing.
“[Worldwide] 3.1 million people had a pending claim for asylum at the end of 2017. 1.9 million new claims for asylum were lodged in 2017. A refugee claimant is an individual seeking international protection and whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined.” *Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
Have you ever been in a position where your safety, even your permission to be in a place, is in the hands of someone else? Where they can decide to accept or reject your claim to stay? Where they might not believe that you are in danger? How do you think that would feel? What would you want to say to a person in that situation?
When Mary responded to the angel’s shocking news with the words: “Let it be to me according to your word,” she entered a world of trouble.
The scandal of her unmarried pregnancy threatened both her and the new life inside her womb, and her safety is largely in the hands of Joseph, to whom she was pledged. Joseph, known as a righteous man, has a serious decision to make, with seemingly no good options. He comes up with the best plan he can think of – a quiet divorce - to protect both Mary and his dignity. And though this is a compassionate decision, it is not God’s plan. An angel appears in a dream and tells him, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20)
Refugee claimants, likewise, must entrust their safety and future to someone else. It is certain that many of them long for angelic intervention to help convince the authorities to believe their story, to see the danger they are in, to let them stay.
Read: Matthew 1:18-25
Prayer: Pray for discernment to hear what the Lord wants for refugee claimants coming to your country. Then find out which, if any, organisations in your area are helping asylum-seekers (contact www.iafr.ca if you need assistance). Contact them to ask what you can do to help while refugee claimants are awaiting the decision in their case.
There were 26 million refugees in 2017, (as distinguished from Internally Displaced People and Asylum Seekers.) “This represents an increase of 500,000 over the past year. Refugees are people who were forced to flee their country of origin in search of safety. To receive refugee protection, they have to prove that they could not find refuge within their homeland and that the authorities in their country either could not or would not protect them.” *Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
What if the authorities in your city, province/state, or country could not or would not protect you? You may already feel that way or know people who do. What does this do to your sense of security?
People do not leave their homes or their countries for no reason. Imagine feeling the urgent need to pack up your family and whatever you can carry and leave everything else behind, with little to no expectation of ever returning home. Nobody does that unless they genuinely believe that fleeing their country is better than the alternative, that the uncertainty and danger of being a refugee in a strange land is somehow safer than staying where you are. This is often the result of a breakdown of government authority, though it can also come from authorities allowing persecution or engaging in state-sponsored terrorism.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph experienced this.
When King Herod hears that a new “King of the Jews” has been born, he knows what to do. Herod never shied away from enacting violence – even against his own family – to secure his position. And he knew the kind of trouble new-born “Kings” could cause. So he gathers intel on where and when the baby was to be born, attempts to make the Magi his unwitting spies, and when that fails pursues a policy of targeted infanticide to wipe out the threat.
Herod would not protect the holy family, and they could not stay where they were. So they became refugees, upon divine direction: “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matt 2:13-15)
The idea that the Messiah flees the Promised Land to Egypt for safety is dripping with meaning. God wanted his liberated people to be different, to protect one another, to live righteously, and to be a blessing to the whole world. But they became like every other nation. And to top it off, here is King Herod doing exactly what Pharaoh had done generations before – ordering the death of infants to protect himself.
If you have a hard time imagining why anyone would flee their country to become a refugee, remember this story, and understand that it is still being played out around the world again and again.
Read: Matthew 2:1-18
Prayer: Thank the Lord that, for the sake of humanity, he did not spare his son the experience of the flight to Egypt. God knows the deepest fears of his children, because he has lived them in the flesh. Pray for the authorities that cannot protect their people, that they would be favoured with the necessary resources, assistance and competencies. Pray also for the authorities that will not protect their people, that their hearts or their positions would be changed.
45.7 million people have been forced to flee their homes, but not their country (i.e. internally displaced). *Source
Be silent for a moment and consider:
what might it feel like to have an unsafe home/city/country?
And what if your options to find safety were extremely limited?
This is an oft-misunderstood part of the refugee story. Internally displaced people have not crossed borders but have still been forced out of their homes. They are often in danger of the same threats that caused them to flee, still potentially subject to the same government, gangs, terrorist groups and economic conditions, but without the familiarity or security of home.
The Biblical story of Israel gives us examples of this internal displacement: “Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds.” (Judges 6:2) They did not cross any borders, but they were not home and they were not safe.
At the time of Jesus’ birth Hebrew people were living in Judea, but they were not in possession of the land. They had seen a succession of conquering nations – Assyrians, Medo-Persians, Greeks, and finally Romans – tromp through the land with their armies and tax collectors. Various religious and political groups had different strategies for dealing with these Empires, from cooperation to separation in the desert to hiding in caves and plotting terroristic resistance. Any hint of sedition towards the Roman Empire was met with violent and sometimes indiscriminate reprisals, including mass crucifixions.
Jesus was born into a powder-keg situation, as part of a people who were in their land but not at home, not safe.
The fear, anger, resistance, and faithful hope of this situation is powerfully summarised by Mary’s Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever. (Luke 1:46-55)
Read: Luke 1:67-79
Prayer: Pray the Magnificat and Zechariah’s prayer for the 45.7 million people in our world who have been internally displaced. Pray that God would lift them up, fill them, remember them, and have mercy on them. Then ask the question: What can you do to make your home, your community, safer for those who are vulnerable?
Our vision is to help people survive and recover from forced displacement. We do this together with the church, both globally, and locally in Canada.