Ian Kirk-Smith introduces an issue dedicated to the refugee crisis
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… (Matthew 25:35)
Matthew 25 suggests that Christians should see everyone as ‘Christ’ in the flesh. Indeed, scholars argue that in the New Testament, ‘stranger’ and ‘neighbour’ are, in fact, synonymous. Thus the Golden Rule, ‘love your neighbour as yourself,’ refers not just to people you know – your ‘neighbours’– but also to people you do not know.
Refugees are people who have fled their country to escape war or persecution. They cannot return home because their own government cannot or will not protect them. They have been forced into exile. Today, just over twenty-one million people – 0.3 per cent of the world’s population – are refugees. New conflicts and crises are forcing more and more people to leave their homes.
While the plight of Syrian refugees has received much media attention, refugees from other regions – including 5.2 million Palestinians, 2.7 million Afghans and 1.1 million Somalis – have generally been ignored. To date South Sudan – the world’s newest state – has seen 1.8 million of its citizens forced to flee their homes.
Instead of showing true moral leadership and protecting refugees, most countries are slamming their doors shut. Their indecision and inaction are causing enormous human suffering.
The UK has accepted some 8,000 Syrians since 2011. Jordan – with a population almost ten times smaller than the UK and with 1.2 per cent of its GDP – currently hosts over 656,000 Syrian refugees and more than two million Palestinians.
‘Refugees’ as Juliet Morton writes in this special issue, demand attention and ‘are people like us’. Keeping them out is not a solution. People will continue to leave countries where they cannot rebuild their lives and attempt to get to safer places. Sam Donaldson reminds us that the stranger is not a statistic and that ‘every lost life demands grieving, demands outrage, demands action’.
What can individual Quakers and Meetings do? Tim Gee, who has travelled around Britain with Tilly Goodwin seeing the response of Friends as individuals and Meetings, offers some positive and inspiring stories. Sometimes, as Paul Martin Emery writes, a simple act of hospitality can offer validation and hope.
History will judge us by how we tackled the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
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