A call for change on World Refugee Day
By: Carl Hetu, National Director, CNEWA Canada
Over the past few years, in my role as national director at a papal agency that works with the Churches and People of the East, I have met many refugees and internally displaced people who made the hard decision to leave their country.
When I ask why they left their homes, their responses are varied. A Syrian mother explained to me how she did not want her daughters to be raped. A woman in northern Ethiopia expressed how water had been scarce for a decade in her town due to environmental changes. A Ukrainian national shared with me their despair and expressed their resignation in these words: “Russia will never leave Ukraine alone.” And from Iraq, I heard a Christian explain how their people had previously lived peacefully with Muslims, but now the fanatics have taken over, and their communities aren’t welcome anymore.
Some of the people I have met now live in Canada. Most, however, have been forced out of their homes and are trying their best to survive the long journey to a better life. Sadly, some won’t make it. They will die in the process: by boat, trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, escaping the desert from central Africa, and some will be shot cold for leaving their country.
Making the decision to leave one’s country to improve their lives or their children’s lives is a big step. People everywhere have the same ambition: to have work and to contribute to the society in which they live. But when it becomes impossible, most feel compelled to leave. In the past 20 years, there are more migrants on the move each year. Statistics from the United Nations suggest that by mid-2020, 80 million people were displaced worldwide as a result of conflict, persecution, human rights violations and violence. Among them are 26.3 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.
Pope Francis stated in his message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2021:
“The Catholic faithful are called to work together, each in the midst of his or her own community, to make the Church become ever more inclusive as she carries out the mission entrusted to the Apostles by Jesus Christ […] In our day, the Church is called to go out into the streets of every existential periphery in order to heal wounds and to seek out the straying, without prejudice or fear, without proselytizing, but ready to widen her tent to embrace everyone.”
At CNEWA, we have been working tirelessly with the various Churches of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Northeast Africa to do our best to improve the lives of local people and to respond to the various movements of refugees. It is true that we are changing the lives of many and giving them a measure of hope, but the situation is so fragile that any economic recession or internal conflict can undo the progress we’ve made to date. Pope Francis is right. Peace is the only way forward to ensure that we care for the health of our planet and the people living on it. The migrant’s question won’t be going away any time soon and countries like Canada will need to build a solid strategy on how to welcome, protect and integrate newcomers, and then we can share our example with the rest of the world.
Photo credit: CNEWA