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A Background Paper by the Social Action Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
by William Janzen
March 30, 1998
This Background Paper was written on request for the Social Action Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). An EFC Position Paper has been officially endorsed by the Organization. An EFC Background Paper is a serious document, created by a Task Force or Commission to encourage dialogue within our community.
The author works in the Ottawa Office of Mennonite Central Committee Canada.1
“Love the sojourner... for you were sojourners”. This phrase in Deuteronomy 10:19 is one of many Biblical references to refugees. Leviticus 19:33 states: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall do him no wrong.... you shall love him as yourself”. Leviticus 24:22 states: “You shall have one law for the sojourner and for the native; for I am the Lord your God”. Deuteronomy 19:10 called for cities of refuge to which people could flee, “lest innocent blood be shed”. The story of God giving a home to a refugee people is basic to the Old Testament. Jesus was a refugee when his family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s killing of infants according to Matthew 2:13ff. Hebrews 13:2, states: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. In Matthew 25:34-35, Jesus refers to the last judgment and says to those who are saved: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom ... for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”.
However clear these teachings may be, the current world refugee situation is almost overwhelming. At the end of 1996 there were nearly 15 million refugees in the world, mainly in the Southern Hemisphere. Another 19 million were “internally displaced”. Millions more are said to be in “refugee-like” situations. The relatively higher number of internally displaced reflects the trend that some borders, in both the richer north and the poorer south, are being closed to refugees, meaning that sometimes they have to stay in their own countries, trapped in war zones. The report for 1997 of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that even when they are allowed into a neighbouring country, they tend to get less protection, meaning that refugee camps may be controlled by militia groups who abuse women and force men and boys to become ‘resistance fighters’. And sometimes refugees are forced back into their home countries before the conditions from which they fled are resolved.2 This paper is an attempt to identify the issues and trends in the world refugee situation. It includes background material, a survey of “refugee producing situations” and a section on causes and various responses. The objective is to help the EFC to consider whether there are actions it ought to undertake. Some groups associated with the EFC have long been active in refugee work, both in Canada and abroad. And churches in the EFC include many new Canadians who come from refugee situations overseas. These factors, together with the Biblical teachings, provide a basis for the EFC to consider this issue.