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Refugees: the symptom of a broader problem?

It is once more that time of the month when my attention turns to MENA Analysis, a one-hour programme that Marcus Jones and I put together and where we discuss the various events impacting the MENA region…and us by osmosis too. 

This month, our conversations will focus for the first time ever on Morocco in North Africa and its recent local and municipal elections that took place on 4 September. Most of us only think of Morocco as a holiday destination, and I even know that Marcus has been there too! But what do those elections highlight in terms of the power-plays between various political and religious tendencies? What makes Morocco different today? 

Also on the programme, I will be joined by Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu). I am delighted to add that Chris won last March the prestigious Annemarie Schimmel Award for Excellence in voicing and analysing the issues that are impacting on communities and individuals across the Middle East. I know this might raise some eyebrows with a few listeners, but I want us to reach out in order to fathom the dynamics of the MENA region and the way how we do not always hear the full story of what is happening in Syria, Palestine and elsewhere. 

And finally, Marcus and I will do a regional roundup that will also examine the recent visit to Israel and Palestine by the Presidents of the Catholic Bishops of Europe (CCEE) as well as a novel project entitled ‘Reimagining Europe’ that is run by Dr Charles Reed on behalf of the Church of England and that has been endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

But let me stop here! No more blog-style analysis from me this month! Instead, I wish to conclude with a letter written by a Lutheran Bishop, Dr Munib Younan, who was himself a refugee once and who is presently a key figure within both the Lutheran World Federation and the Middle East Council of Churches. I was moved by his Open Letter and I believe it reminds us of our Christian responsibilities toward those hapless refugees. 

So why not invest in an hour and listen to our programme live or else by listening to the pod-cast anytime later? 

“Dear leaders of the world and people of good conscience,

I write to you from Jerusalem to address the very serious refugee situation affecting countries across the Middle East and now Europe. I myself am a refugee, as well as a bishop. Both my faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men, and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps.

Both my faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men, and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps

The last weeks have seen not only an increase in the numbers of these refugees, but also an increase in tragic outcomes for many. This is a shameful situation, and one which the international community cannot ignore. It must be remembered that refugees are not vacationers. They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure. They are displaced as a result of poverty, violence, terror, and political conflict. Frustration and fear lead them to risk their lives and their life-savings in search of safe havens where they can live and raise families in peace. We must remember that these are not “waves” or “masses” or “hordes”—these are human beings who deserve dignity and respect.

They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure. They are displaced as a result of poverty, violence, terror, and political conflict

As a refugee and as Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, I have two messages for world leaders:

  • I believe it is the responsibility of the world community, including the European Union, to have a clear policy to accept the stranger among us. “Welcoming the Stranger,” a set of affirmations from faith leaders developed in collaboration with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is a good place to begin and a good model to follow. Most major religious traditions in the world advocate welcoming the stranger, showing hospitality to all. In Matthew 25 Jesus says the nations of the world will be judged by how they treat the poor, the hungry, the immigrant: “‘And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” 
  • All political leaders are responsible for this current refugee crisis, either directly or indirectly. This is the result of a global system, not merely a local crisis. The international community has not helped solve the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Economic and political interests have taken priority over peacemaking and dialogue. Our region has become so chaotic that it opens the door to extremists and terrorists; our people are becoming desperate. The Middle East needs justice and peace, not only to end the flow of refugees, but so that displaced people can return to their homes in dignity, and live in free democratic states. 

My words may be strong. They may be direct. But this humanitarian crisis requires even stronger actions. These people, our brothers and sisters, are crying: “Who will welcome us? Where is justice?” God hears the cries of the poor, the oppressed, and the refugee. I pray that soon, political leaders and policy makers in the Global North will also hear their cries. This will begin when leaders approach refugee communities not merely as problems to be solved, but as fellow children of God deserving accompaniment, dignity, and human rights. 

For this reason, I urge all world leaders and people of good conscience to act quickly, for the sake of the humanity we share. 

Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land”