Today June 20th ‘World Refugee Day’ is a grim reminder to us to remember the plight of refugees all over the world and to do something about their situation which is growing from bad to worse. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are more than 50 million refugees around the world – half of which are women and children.
On June 15th Amnesty International released a hard-hitting report on the refugee crisis; ‘The Global Refugee Crisis: A Conspiracy of Neglect’. Salil Shetty the Secretary General of Amnesty International says “the refugee crisis is one of the defining challenges of the 21st century but the response of the international community has been a shameful failure. We need a radical overhaul of policy and practice to create a coherent and comprehensive global strategy”.
It is simply unbelievable the way people are dishoused and dispossessed all across the globe. A place which they once called home, where they lived in peace, harmony and security is snatched away from them because of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. In the last few months, we have seen millions of people displaced all over: over 3.7 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries; an estimated 11 million people have been displaced within their own countries in the Middle East; more than 4.5 million were internally displaced in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2014. Tens and thousands of Muslim Rohingyas have fled Myanmar in the last year and many of them in most dehumanised conditions. The list of IDP’s in India due to mega-projects and communal violence is ever increasing.
A little after his elections, Pope Francis in July 2013 visited Italy’s migrant island of Lampedusa where he attacked the ‘globalisation of indifference’ saying “we have become used to the suffering of others. It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It is not our business.” The care and concern of the refugees has been a hallmark of his papacy. Even in his latest encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ (On care for our common home) he says, “there has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognised by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is a widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded”.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) which was founded in November 1980, thanks to the vision of the then Superior General of the Society of Jesus Fr. Pedro Arrupe is today involved in responding to the cries of the refugees in several parts of the world. In a statement on ‘World Refugee Day’ JRS says “let’s not push back; let’s push forward – push ourselves, our neighbours and our communities to open our doors. Then together, we can unlock potential. Together we can welcome. Together we can advocate. Together we can”.
Today, the UNHCR appeals to the people of the world. “Millions of families have fled their homes to escape war or human rights abuses. Millions of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers – who are also students, musicians, cooks and so much more. This World Refugee Day, please get to know these remarkable individuals and introduce them to your friends”. However, let’s not merely get to know them, let’s do something concrete about the plight of refugees TODAY!
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)