Churches Challenged to Act on World Refugee Day

Churches around the world are expressing a greater sense of urgency for world leaders and churches to do more to address the some 40 million people, mostly from Africa, forcibly uprooted from their homes as countries today mark World Refugee Day.

"These figures should challenge the Church to deal not only with the consequences of uprootedness but also the causes that are political, economic, social, environmental, etc," the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) wrote in a statement.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) announced Tuesday that the number of refugees had increased globally for the first time since 2002, largely as a result of the crisis in Iraq.

Some 1.5 million Iraqis, nearly half of which are Christians, were forced to seek refuge in other countries, mainly in Syria and Jordan. Jordan now has the highest ratio of refugees to local population in the world.

"The refugees that are arriving are getting poorer, and those that are here are also getting poorer," observed World Vision's Ashley Clements from Jordan to Mission Network News.

"It's [getting] longer and longer since the kids have been in school here – some of them up to two or three years. The time is really now when something has to change," Clements said. "Without international support, it's not going to happen."

According to the UNHCR's "2006 Global Trends" report, the number of refugees under the agency's mandate rose last year by 14 percent to almost 10 million.

In Africa there are about 2.5 million refugees out of the global number of 9.9 million.

The UNHCR figures do not include some 4.3 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Occupied Territories, who fall under the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The total for both refugee figures is over 14 million.

According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the total number of conflict-related IDP's (internally displaced person) worldwide by the end of 2006 is estimated at 24.5 million. Another 5.8 million people are considered to be in a condition of statelessness by the UNHCR.

The sixth annual United Nations World Refugee Day seeks to focus worldwide attention on the plight of millions of refugees and displaced persons around the world.

In observance of the day, Pope Benedict XVI urged world leaders Wednesday to take in and care for refugees.

"From the heart I hope that these — our brothers and sisters so tried by suffering — are guaranteed asylum and the recognition of their rights, and I invite those responsible for the nations to offer protection to those who are in such delicate situations of need," the pope said, according to The Associated Press.

U.S.-based Church World Service, meanwhile, has made available resources for World Refugee Day on its website to help congregations incorporate the issue into worship. The church-based humanitarian organization aids and resettles about 8,000 refugees and entrants in the United States each year.

Furthermore, the All Africa Conference of Churches is urging churches to "engage" with their respective governments to look for long term solution to the refugee crisis.

"The World Refugee Day is a time for us to take stock and ask ourselves if we have been able to remain the 'Church of the Stranger' that our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to be," AACC stated

"Let us extend our solidarity and love to the refugees in our midst and celebrate their courage and determination in rebuilding a new life."

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