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Questions of Refuge February 20, 2017

Posted by Pete B in refugees.


Two men recently appeared photographed with bandaged stumps where once they had hands. Who are they? Who was to blame? Could it have been avoided? and what should happen next?

These are the kind of questions that should come to mind presented when with such an image. There are plenty of others.

bbcnewsmigrantsTheir names are Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal and you can read their story on the BBC website. Both come from Ghana. Both had found their way to the USA, a land of hope and opportunity, and been refused refugee status. Facing deportation they had tried to cross the border into Canada, unaware of just how extreme the winter weather was. When they were found their hands had frozen so severely that amputation of their fingers was the only option.

No-one acted unlawfully, except the men themselves. But that does not mean the blame sits squarely with them. I do not know whether these men should have been granted refugee status or not, but I do believe the system and the world is broken.

In a town just over the border Canadians are nervous at the number of people crossing the border illegally and knocking on their doors for help, but in such circumstances turning them away is not an option.

In Europe it is the sea that claims lives, and the desperation that forces people to take the risk.

There are still countries willing to shoot people trying to leave, or trying to enter. Borders and oceans are dangerous places. People don’t cross them lightly without permission.

In the Old Testament Israel was given various instructions on how to respond to strangers living among them, and how they were to remember there own time as refugees and then as slaves in Egypt.

Migration is a complex issue. There are pushes of war, famine, persecution, or individual situations. There are pulls of safety, opportunity, education, political or social freedoms.

I’m grateful to the many open borders within Europe and aware that Britain voted to leave the EU in part to regain control over who can and cannot enter freely.

The scale of what is labeled a refugee crisis can be shown in numbers as in the ones from the UN Refugee agency  illustrated at https://www.lucify.com/the-flow-towards-europe/  but numbers and dots on a map are faceless.

What is the refugee crisis?

Is the problem:

  • That millions are forced to flee their homes in search of safety?
  • That desperate people are taking desperate measures, and dying in the process?
  • That people are arriving in large numbers and we don’t know how to help?
  • That we don’t think our infrastructure can cope with so many new arrivals?
  • That we are afraid of refugees and their impact on our lives?

Perhaps the problem is all of these

If you’ve not seen this video from 2015 covering the Syrian refugee crisis, take a look now. It doesn’t cover the crisis from all angles and it does use the phrase “Xenophobic rich cowards behind fences”. It clearly has an agenda that says we should all be doing more.

People move from a lot of different places, for a lot of different reasons, with a lot of different histories, cultures and languages.

In another great video (less infographic and more possible answers) Alexander Betts states:

Around the world, we present refugees with an almost impossible choice between three options: encampment, urban destitution and dangerous journeys.

Alexander Betts: Our refugee system is failing. Here’s how we can fix it (TED talk, Feb 2016)

Alexaner, traces the history of modern refugee policies, looks at the problems, and identifies some positive steps including work done in Uganda.

We’ve migrated a few times. I’ve lived in nearly twenty homes in fifteen towns on three continents and had several times of not knowing where I (and later we) would live next. I know a little of what it feels to be a stranger, and I have been so grateful for those who have made us welcome so many times.

More from me on this subject again soon.

Until then here are a few useful resources.



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