Fleeing terror is an every day reality for hundreds of millions of refugees and persecuted people around the world

Fleeing terror is an every day reality for hundreds of millions of refugees and persecuted people around the world


From Toronto’s Mayor, John Tory, pleading with the federal government to send urgent assistance, “Not just money,” to help 800 migrants, (including 200 children), flooding into overcrowded rec. centres, and community colleges – to the southern U.S. where reports that some of the children, once forcibly removed from their parents, are lost or have run away from shelters – and now to Canada’s military leading a peacekeeping mission to Mali – where a quarter of a million people are fleeing from a long standing, brutal civil war – the world is in a deep humanitarian crisis.


According to the UN Refugee Agency, (UNHCR), more than 65 million people have been removed, or have had to flee their own homes, “Nearly one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution in their countries.”

UNCHR also reports that, “Nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half, are under the age of 18.”

We have our own influx of refugees here in North America, but in Europe and the Middle East, the situation is even more dire; and among the top refugee-hosting countries says UNCHR are Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Uganda, and Turkey.

Our planet is now witnessing the highest levels of displaced people on record.


The latest Pew Research Centre report analyzed religious freedom in 198 countries and territories, and reported, “Religious antagonism saw its biggest surge in over a decade in 2016, with Christians and Muslims – followers of the world’s two biggest religions – ranking as the top victims of political restrictions and social hostility.”

But, the report clearly states that Christians once again have the designation of the most persecuted people in the world and, “Face mounting pressure over their beliefs, discrimination, verbal assault, physical attacks, arrests, and the destruction of religious sites.”


Sam Brownback, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, says, “The state of religious freedom is dire. We have work to do. We must move religious freedom forward – we must defend it in every corner of the globe.”

We all know how easy it is to separate ourselves into tribes, after all, we’re a tribal race – but the race is changing – and our global village is growing. The only thing that’s going to help us win the race is the tallest, most difficult, seemingly impossible action of all in a deeply divided world, and what God called for over two thousand years ago when Jesus said, “I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  The righteous then asked, “When did we see you, a stranger, and welcome you?” Christ replied,“‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25: 35-40)


In a Q&A on this refugee crisis that has far-reaching implications for each of us, I spoke with Carl Hetu of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). CNEWA’s work includes helping Christians in the Middle East who are escaping terror every day of their lives.

SP:      World Refugee Day has come and gone, but the suffering of millions is far from over, what’s the significance of World Refugee Day?

CH:      Refugees and migrants are people on the move: leaving their homes and countries to seek out better lives.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  In the history of the world this is a constant, there will always be people on the move.   But now for the past 18 years, there has been an unprecedented increase. It is a clear indication that the world is changing.  Many countries are imploding due to political turnover, transition, or retribution of ethnic and religious confrontations due to decades of exploitation.  Others are due to outside interventions to seek out precious resources like water and oil. We are also witnessing an increasing number of people moving because of natural disasters that are worse than before, longer and stronger droughts, and bigger tropical storms hitting the coast. Deforestation, intense monoculture of farmland is creating faster degeneration and desertification of land. The list goes on.

All of the above affects not only the countries where this happens, but also the rest of the world.  We are economically interdependent on many levels.  When there is an increase in poverty and people movement, it affects the economic stability.  Purchasing power of families diminishes, too.  It puts more stress on regional geopolitical relationships.  Like in Ethiopia, which has almost one million refugees on its soil from about five neighbouring unstable countries.  Or in Lebanon and Jordan that have over 1.5 million each of refugees. These are the countries that are very much facing real challenges.

It is true that western countries like Canada are doing more but frankly it is limited.  We could do so much more.  And Canada would gain so much too.


SP:      Why should we pay attention when it seems the current refugee/persecution problems around the world seem too big, and nothing can be done about this growing crisis, and as you say is getting worse?

CH:      When you look at it globally, yes, it is, overwhelming.  But we need to take it one crisis at a time and address it with different approaches. And not alone. It is in the interest of all to have nations use international organizations to implement short and long-term solutions. Some are to provide immediate emergency aids, others to work on peace. We need a multilateral and bilateral approach. It is time to be innovative, and to truly work for building a movement toward peace. The alternative is already unsustainable. And let’s not forget all the NGOs, Catholic aid agencies like CNEWA, and charities that are on the ground doing a lot of good making a difference.

SP:      Where is the most urgent need in the world right now?

CH:      Each region has incredible need: Horn of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe like Ukraine.  We are only seeing the beginning.  I am afraid things will get worse if the world leaders don’t sit down and look at sustainable solutions. This means putting the production of weapons aside and increase diplomacy, and ways to make corrective measures to reduce as much as possible the level of poverty and tension and confrontation. You know the saying, “If I have a job, and my family live in dignity, I won’t join fanatic groups, I won’t attack my neighbour and I won’t be forced to leave my home.”


SP:      Can you touch on the Rohingya crisis and Bob Rae’s report from the region?

CH:      Bob Rae just issued his report that was right on point, but somehow the Canadian government decided to do much less than is needed. Canada could have been a leader in this. Much is needed to be done to save families that are truly suffering.

SP:      What countries are persecuting Christians, and what can we do to help?


CH:      Persecution, discrimination, harassment are very much present in many countries like India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and in the Middle East. But we always need to use discernment when analysing it.  For example, the war in Syria with more than one million Christians that left the country since the beginning of the war in 2011, could indicate that they were targeted exclusively because of their faith. Looking more closely, we can see that it is true in some areas and in many cases, but really, the complexity of this war is more to blame. One thing is clear though, they are leaving their homeland and many won’t return, which affects their presence in the country and region. We can say the same with Iraq: Christians have been targeted since 2003 with kidnappings, torture and brutal killing from fanatics like Al Qaeda and later on from ISIS.


SP:      What is CNEWA doing in the world to help refugees and persecuted Christians?

CH:      We are following all of this carefully with our partners at the local churches. We are working with them to develop programs that respond to the plea of Christians and we are doing everything we can to help Christian communities remain in their countries wherever possible. We are helping refugees in Jordan and Lebanon survive while they are waiting to go abroad to start a new life or maybe hopefully go back home…but this last option is less probable. I take the occasion to thank the Catholic population of Canada who have been so generous in supporting them via CNEWA. I invite them to continue their support by including peace in the region in their prayers and make a generous donation to continue our mission that is far from over – www.cnewa.ca

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