Louise Abraham is an International Development student at King’s College in London and a former student of the Brentwood Ursuline. Here she offers her thoughts on Refugee Week and how it is an opportunity to counter negative attitudes towards refugees by reflecting on the church’s teaching to love our neighbours, and to gather in solidarity for those who have been displaced across the world.
As I drove through France this summer, I noted two perceptions concerning refugees. The first was of pity and compassion. Often phrases such as “Aw, how terrible that this poor Syrian family has to beg at the side of the road” was often accompanied by nods of agreement and words of pities. However, it was the non-verbal gestures that struck me: people locking the car door as they drove past refugees in standstill traffic and avoiding eye contact as they pleaded for help in the streets. The road that preceded Calais was adorned with extensive barbed wire fences that stretched for miles.
Although not openly communicated, there is a resounding perception that refugees are a threat to society and public safety that has pervaded Europe. This perception is often exacerbated by media coverage of refugees committing terrorist attacks or perpetrating sexual assaults. More subtly, news articles often associate words such as “masses” to the movement of refugees into Europe; which is an overstatement as 80% of the world’s refugee population currently resides in Africa. But with those who decide to flee, their struggle begins with the decision of how to undertake the perilous journey that lies before them. Whether they make their journey through land or sea, they are often met with obstacles in a bid to better their lives.
Pope Francis has called on Catholics worldwide to “to protect, to welcome, to promote and to integrate” our fellow citizens. Our attitude towards refugees must go beyond words of compassion. In a world that is consumed by social media there has been a “globalisation of indifference”, as Pope Francis so perfectly described on his visit to Lampedusa. We can become numb to the sufferings of others worldwide. Subsequently, Pope Francis inspired the Share the Journey campaign to promote the rights of all people in transit. This campaign aims to symbolically “share the journey” with refugees that have been forced to flee their homes. As the United Nations move closer to finalising two new compacts on refugees and migration towards the end of 2018, it becomes increasingly more important that we urge our world leaders to put the lives and dignity of refugees before their own political interests.
Chelmsford parishioners sign action cards following a Share the Journey walk
CAFOD is doing great work all over the world to aid refugees. For example, in Lebanon CAFOD provides training for young refugees in order to increase their chances of employment. In Myanmar, CAFOD provides basic necessities such as shelter, food and clean water to those who have fled their homes. But this work will only have short-term effects if the global community is not unified. This is why CAFOD urges the UN compacts on refugees and migration to:
- Respect human dignity
- Protect the vulnerable
- Support host countries
- Keep families together
- Tackle the reasons for migration.
“Refugee Week is an opportunity for the Catholic community to go beyond words and prayers and turn them into action”
This week is Refugee Week, and it is a great reminder of the Churches’ teachings on how we should care for our neighbours. During this week, we should take time to reflect how each individual is made in the image of God, which means that everyone should be treated with the upmost respect. Unfortunately, many refugees report that this is not the case, as they are often beaten and harassed by border officials, or even other refugees. This ordeal is made even harder as many refugees are often separated from their loved ones, often not knowing when they will see them again.
“The Church work cannot alone in this matter, there needs to be a global collaboration on all fronts if we are to see less barbed wire and more open arms”
Refugee Week is an opportunity for the Catholic community to go beyond words and prayers and turn them into action by signing petitions, participating in the Share the Journey walk, or even volunteering at refugee centres. This week is a global recognition of all refugees who have been displaced by wars, persecution and natural disasters.
While Refugee Week will not solve all the problems faced by refugees worldwide, it is important for them to know that we stand in solidarity with them. In a world where news is constantly available, refugees are aware of the negative sentiment towards them. Hopefully, a physical stance of solidarity within our communities can create the wave of impact that is needed to push our world leaders to do more for refugees. Nevertheless, it is a step towards tearing down the “helpless” and “threatening” perceptions that many hold against refugees. It is the Church and CAFOD’s aim to ensure the treatment of all refugees as human beings; beings that are free to roam, work and live as they wish, with dignity and respect. But the Church cannot work alone in this matter, there needs to be a global collaboration on all fronts if we are to see less barbed wire and more open arms.