The refugee and immigration crisis is one that is knocking at nearly every nation’s door. As Christians, our hearts are pricked. Our compassion moves us and our spirit is stirred. We want to do something, anything.
The news reports and the haunting faces scrambling across Europe are jarring. They are desperate images with photographers eager to capture the tear, the frightening toddler or the elderly man, wrapped in a blanket.
I’ve been trying to simply tell the stories of the refugees from one-on-one interviews. I’ve tried to steer away from the politics, but today I’m diving in.
Presidential candidate Ben Carson, seeking to gain an understanding of this answer, spent a couple of days last week visiting refugees in Jordan. I applaud his efforts, but I sincerely hope he was told the whole truth. I’m not sure he was because he came home and said refugees “want to return to Syria.” That’s true for many, but there are others who cannot go home, because they have no home.
Please bear with me for a few paragraphs as this isn’t simple.
The truth about the Syrian War
Most of the reports tell us that people are on the run because of the civil war in Syria.The four-year-old Civil War in Syria has disrupted a once-thriving culture and economy and more than half of the 23 million Syrian population have fled their homes.
So, who is at fault? Like everything in the Middle East, it’s complicated.
The United States wants tyrannical president Bashar al-Assad out. It’s true he has been a despot, even gassing his own people. The U.S. has tried to energize, weaponize and organize the opposition. But some of them have joined ISIS, Al Queda, Nusra and other terrorist groups, taking our training and weapons with them.
Our NATO partner Turkey is fighting the Kurds, our friends who are fighting ISIS, our enemy. Concurrently, Turkey is scuffling with Russia who is not our friend. But Russia is fighting ISIS. And ISIS would love to overthrow Syria’s government so they could establish their caliphate. Got it? With neither enemy nor friend clearly defined, many clear-headed Syrians are abandoning their country.
Who are the refugees?
According to the EU, most those impacted by the Civil war have relocated to Jordan or Lebanon. I saw it with my own eyes, and in fact, in Jordan there is a single camp with up 100,000 refugees.
The European Union has logged more than 500,000 arrivals this year, but only 44,000 of them were actually fleeing the Syrian war.
So who are they? According to the EU, most the people we see are on the move because of “economic reasons.” The rest of the people are Afghans, Albanians , Iraqis, Pakistanis, and others from the region.
Now, if I were in abject poverty, with my nation crumbling around me, I would consider joining the crowd and find a better place to live. But this technically changes the status from refugee to immigrant, and therein lies the rub. It has implications in Europe as well as the US.
What about the Christians running away from ISIS?
There is so much turmoil that we tend to congregate our news into easy sound bites. The people you see on television are generally not Christians on the run from ISIS. The people in the UN camp that Ben Carson visited are not either. The truth is that even in these kinds of situations, there is no safety for minority faith groups like Yazidis, Greeks, Assyrians, Catholics and other Christians.
There is no doubt that Daesh is depopulating Christian communities, forcing the residents to convert, pay a fee, or die. Syrian Christians have been hit. Iraqis too. And Ethiopians and Egyptians. Many Sunni Muslims have also been killed.
It’s genocide, but neither the U.N. nor the U.S. will call it by name because then they would actually have to act differently.
Technically, refugees are people who are temporarily displaced and will return to their home. Immigrants are simply looking for a better place to go. According to International Law, asylum seekers are running away from political, religions, or personal persecution and seek to change their residency in the country of refuge.
They cannot go home and this is where Ben Carson and others need to differentiate. The United States is NOT giving asylum to Christians and other minority religious groups who have been oppressed by Daesh. Why? Because ISIL/ISIS is not a state (yet). So these displaced people are classified simply as immigrants. “Stand in line.”
So they wait and pray.
Care for the brethren
Christians need to be sympathetic, but we should also listen to the words of Scripture. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Gal 6.10
Yes. We should care about all of humanity. We should weep for souls and love deeply, without reservation. We should be concerned about Muslims, and Hindus and Atheists.
But as Christians, our first call is to each other. Why is that? The world is watching. Jesus himself asked, “How will the world know that you are my disciples? If you have love for one another.”
I believe Christians — and other persecuted faiths — should be elevated in their status before the world’s immigration authorities. These people cannot be assimilated back into their homelands. They stood for our Lord under the gravest of threats. So why can’t we stand for them?