Here in Australia it is Refugee Week. An annual week-long activity marked in the calendar to "inform the public about refugees and celebrate positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society". I feel like there is no more important time in recent history than now when it comes to the importance in discussing what it means to be a refugee and how we (as developed nations and individuals who are lucky enough live in a safe country) respond to this crisis.
It's a huge huge GINORMOUS issue and I'm not going to pretend to answer it in this short, insignificant blog. But I would like to start a discussion. We actually cannot ignore the refugee crisis. Syria was a nation of similar population size to Australia before the war began only five years ago. Now that crisis has seen five million people flee the country and another 6.5 million displaced within Syria. Those figures are absolutely mind boggling.
In Australia there is a lot of rhetoric thrown around about asylum seekers being "illegals" or "queue jumpers". People who are "stealing jobs". But the reality is almost as far removed from these accusations as possible. UNHCR defines a refugee as:
I remember a few years ago meeting an Iraqi taxi driver in Sydney who was the kindest, most sincere man I have ever met. He shared so openly about his past. He had lived in Iraq as a very successful professor. Someone with financial security. Someone with stature in his community. He escaped here with nothing for the safety of his family. He came literally with the clothes on his back and the phone number of one person, who may or may not be able to help him get on his feet. He has worked hard and long. But he is grateful. He is not bitter. He believes the sacrifices he made for his family were worthwhile.
As I listened to his story, I was floored. It didn't change the way I thought about refugees but it gave me a deep respect and a better understanding. I was so inspired and deeply challenged by his willingness to sacrifice it all for the hope that his children might have a better life.
So this Refugee Week, by challenge to you is, seek out stories. Don't instantly believe that hate-filled post you happen to see on social media and somehow feel compelled to share. Ask questions. Seek truth. Put yourself in someone else's shoes. If you have never met a refugee, why don't you intentionally try and have a conversation with one? It may change the way you think.
And while you're contemplating, perhaps you will feel compelled to make a difference in this area of gigantic challenge. Here are some organisations doing amazing work with refugees:
And if you want to find out more about why we feel so strongly about global issues - check out our philosophy.
Happy Refugee Week!