As I write to you this morning, there are some 8,000 refugees sitting in boats off the coast of Malaysia hoping to be welcomed ashore. Today, one boat has been begging the Thai government for asylum but was merely given some food and water and repairs on their boat’s engine, a helpful measure for sure but one that doesn’t address their need for a homeland. Between January and March of this year, 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees boarded boats seeking asylum. The Muslim Rohingya refugees are fleeing political and religious oppression in their country of Myanmar; those from Bangladesh are trying to escape the extreme poverty of their country. Nations in the region had turned a blind eye to the migrating people for a while, but now political leaders in the area are sending a clear message: “We don’t want you.” According to the Associated Press, Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jafaar said, “What do you expect us to do? We have been very nice to the people who broke into our border. We have treated them humanely but they cannot be flooding our shores like this.”
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
We will, with God’s help. Easy to say but sometimes awfully hard to do! There is one group that is trying to do this very thing, Episcopal Migration Ministries. I know I’ve written about their great work before but, in the face of the continuing news of boatloads of people stranded at sea, I feel we need to be reminded of the good work that is being done. Please know, I’m not trying to say “We’re okay. We’re doing something; we’ve got the Migration Ministries.” It is good but it’s not enough. There are still 8,000 people sitting in boats!
Let me suggest that you watch the video on the EMM webpage about the work that Boise, ID, is doing with resettlement – http://www.episcopalmigrationministries.org/home.aspx
If you peruse their website, you’ll find other encouraging stories of the positive impact that our communities can have for the new residents. Might your community have the resources needed to reach out like Boise did? Might you have the passion to begin some conversations with the movers and shakers in your local government and churches?
Maybe one way to begin is to plan an information celebration. The Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) has designated the week of June 27 – July 2, 2015, as National Refugee Advocacy Week which is being supported by Episcopal Migration Ministries. One event is already being planned in Southfield by Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. On Saturday June 27, from 2 to 5 pm, they plan to honor refugees and celebrate the many gifts they bring to our communities. For more information and to offer some help, contact Jessica Arvan, School Liaison Specialist, Refugee Services, (248) 663-0646, jarva@LSSM.org The RCUSA site is available here – http://rcusa.org/wrd2015
Or perhaps you can plan an event with your congregation. The RCUSA has prepared an advocacy kit for getting your event off the ground – http://episcopalmm.org/sites/www/Uploads/files/EMMResources.org%20Transfers/RCUSA%202015%20World%20Refugee%20Day%20Advocacy%20Toolkit_04.28.15.pdf
I know that these measures alone will not provide homes for the men, women and children sitting in their over-crowded boats but if we each take a more personal interest in the plight of all homeless people, perhaps we can improve the lives of those already here and create enough good news that others will also speak out to effect change on a larger scale.
If you and/or your congregation sponsor an event or a letter-writing campaign, let the rest of us know! We can help, we can be inspired by your work, we can get involved!
Let us pray…
Almighty and merciful God,
whose Son became a refugee
and had no place to call his own;
look with mercy on those who today
are fleeing from danger,
homeless and hungry.
Bless those who work to bring them relief;
inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts;
and guide the nations of the world towards that day
when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and of peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council