International (MNN) — World Refugee Day, observed June 20 each year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world.
It's especially appropriate this year. According to the United Nations, more people are refugees or internally displaced than at any time since 1994.
The ongoing crisis in Syria is a major contributing factor in the global displacement. Baptist Global Response Executive Director Jeff Palmer puts it in scope. "You're looking at 45 million people in the world that are displaced right now. It's the largest number that it has been in 10 years. That number is growing–actually doubled over 10 years. About 29 million are what we call ‘internally displaced' folks. They're not refugees, but they can't go home in their own countries. There are about 16 million worldwide refugees right now."
This translates to a new refugee or internally displaced person every 4.1 seconds.
War remains the dominant cause. Palmer cites a recent report from UN's High Commissioner for Refugees which states that just over half of all refugees listed in the report come from just five war-affected countries: "Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, and Syria…. But then you‘ve got the Sudans and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most of these refugees that are coming out of those countries are actually going into developing countries themselves."
And that brings a whole other challenge. The countries where they're seeking refuge are ill-equipped to absorb the influx of people. "They're going to places like Pakistan, Iran, Kenya and Ethiopia. It's presenting huge challenges for everybody: how to address both those internally displaced and then the refugees that are outside of the countries."
World Refugee Day is a day set aside to honor the courage, strength, and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict, and violence. It's also a call to action: millions need your help. Just two weeks ago, the United Nations launched its largest-ever appeal for help. They asked the global community for $4.4 billion worth of help, a lions' share earmarked for the Syrian crisis.
The problem is that pledges for most crises aren't being met as it is. In fact, during August of 2011 funds ran critically low for the BGR Horn of Africa famine relief project. That was one part of a larger aid picture where compassion fatigue turned out to be deadly. Palmer says, "Most aid agencies–from the big ones at the UN level, the other huge large umbrella organizations, to the small ones like us at Baptist Global Response–are just stretched to the maximum, right now." Others were forced to close down projects.
However, because they ARE smaller, BGR could make the most of what they were getting. Palmer says, "If you've got some structure in place in the area that this is happening, then you are way ahead of the game." He goes on to explain, "We've got a lot of good touch points in most of these areas. Consequently, we have a lot going on with the Syrian refugees in four or five different countries. We've got a lot going on with the Horn of Africa refugees and quite a bit with the Afghan refugees."
As it turns out, resourcing is a key part of outreach for BGR. In understanding the Great Commission as three action statements: "Pray, Give or Go," giving is one result of prayer. Palmer supports that idea. "In light of who we are as followers of Jesus Christ, we cannot turn our back on the world even though we get tired. Even Jesus got tired carrying the cross. He got weary and fell down. But we can't get weary in well-doing and lose sight of the fact we need to reach out to those in need."
Then, there's the age-old question Palmer admits he's asked often: "Why should I be concerned about people somewhere else in the world when we've got problems here at home? " He tackles it two-fold: First, with a reminder. "The command to love, to care for those who are hurt—we should be doing it to our neighbors here at home, no question about it. But we should be looking to the nations and the needs that are out there." Second, with a notice of purpose. "These are folks that don't have a lot of access to the message of hope that's in Christ. When they come out, we're in a unique position to help them and minister, and we're also in a unique position to give them a comfort and a word of hope that's found in Christ."
It's World Refugee Day. The fact that it exists is evidence of a hurting world that demands a response: pray, give, or go.