Rome, 15 June 2015 – For World Refugee Day this weekend, the Jesuit Refugee Service urges you to remember that the key to change is within each of us. While governments decide to accept or reject refugees, only we have the power to truly welcome them. We must change our fixed view of refugees as ‘the other.’
Refugees around the world are being pushed back and pushed out. Australia is pushing refugees from Nauru to Cambodia. Colombians are being kicked out of Venezuela. Kenya has threatened to expel nearly half a million Somali and other refugees. Boats with Rohingya asylum seekers are turned away again and again by countries in Asia Pacific, left stranded at sea. Thousands of people are drowning attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from the Middle East and North Africa.
Even where refugees are not literally expelled, they are often shunned, mistreated or jailed. Their very presence is criminalised, and they are often excluded from their host communities. In South Africa, foreigners are facing violence and riots, forcing them to flee their homes. In Europe, refugees are forced to rely on the informal labour and housing markets. In the United States, refugees fleeing widespread violence in Central America are held in detention.
The key to change need not always be a top-down approach. Swedish policy makers have exemplified that leaders can encourage this shift in our societal perception, but we must start with our own individual perceptions. Refugees are the ‘we,’ the ‘us,’ as opposed to ‘they’ or ‘them.’ Let’s not just save lives; let’s save dignity.
“Integration and hospitality are not only about opening our borders, but opening our communities. The latter does not result from the decisions of a few leaders, but from our own personal decisions. To change our countries we must start with our communities, and to change our communities we must start with ourselves,” said JRS International Director Peter Balleis SJ.
We can push governments to welcome refugees, but let’s not wait indefinitely for the macro decisions of our leaders to trickle down. Let’s micromanage change in our own communities.
“We must all be able first to see, and then help others to see, migrants are not a problem to be solved. They are our brothers and sisters who need help, who should be welcomed and loved,” said Kenyan refugee and Jesuit Refugee Service international volunteer, Anthony Mukui.
So let’s not push back; let’s push forward – push ourselves, our neighbours and our communities to open our doors. Then, together we can unlock potential. Together we can welcome. Together we can advocate. Together we can.