What did I learn about refugees in Budapest?
February 5 to 12, I was in Budapest for a conference focused on refugee work. How I arrived there is a story in and of itself and one we don’t have time for, but I was there with two other members of Revolve. We approached the week knowing that I was invited to teach a breakout session, but not really fully aware of what God wanted us to learn beyond that.
Since we have returned home, I have been inundated with people asking questions about the trip. What did we learn? What was it like? How was it?
Honestly, I have had a hard time wrapping my mind around everything that I am processing. I am still putting everything in the funnel, so to speak, and seeing what comes out on the other side. In response to these questions, however, I wanted to take a few weeks to share what I learned and, hopefully, begin a healthy conversation in our own backyard about the forcibly displaced people here and abroad. What follows is an edited journal entry.
On Monday night we heard from the organizers of the conference. Most everyone here (besides us) is leading or spearheading on-the-ground grassroots organizations working with refugees in Europe. Those present range from pastors to counselors. Some are working with sex trafficking victims, others with children, but they all have the same goal: demonstrating and declaring the love of God to those who are forcibly displaced.
Here is the situation.
Globally, as of 2016, some 65 million people are currently forcibly displaced from their homes. People hear that number and they have a lot of thoughts in their brain as to what it means for their countries, their livelihood, and the state of the world. As I listened to people speak, however, I realized how much my own perspective of refugees has been skewed by primetime news. So what is true?
Of the 65 million displaced people, there are 1.2 million open applications for refugee status in Europe just in 2016. That doesn't mean that there are 1.2 million refugees in Europe, it means that 1.2 million people have applied for refugee status. Over 500,000 people were commanded to leave. The European Union, which promised that 100% of the refugees would be resettled from Greece and Italy have not followed through on their promises. Only 11% of the refugees have actually been resettled in the rest of the EU.
Those numbers seem astronomical, but remember that there were 65 million people displaced as of 2016. This year that number will grow. The vast majority of these, 86%, are not in Europe and North America, but staying in developing nations, nations that don't even have their own infrastructure let alone the capacity to help other people.
What can be done? If you are a refugee, you only have options. Option number one is to go home to your own country. This option is not a very good option, because due to war, economic problems, travel restrictions, and the difficulties of the journey, the average time it takes for a displaced person to return home is 26 years. That's right: 26 years.
Your second option is to stay and integrate into society where you are. But, like I said, 86% of the refugees are in developing nations. In that case, integration is not possible. In the case of Europe and North America, they are often not allowed.
Option three is to allow the government to resettle you into another location. Here is a disturbing fact, less than 0.05% of refugees are actually resettled. In other words, of the 65 million who were just forcibly displaced in 2016, less than half of a percent will actually be resettled somewhere. So much for bureaucratic efficacy.
So, if the world has an incredibly healthy year for refugees, and 1% return to their home, 1% integrate into society, and 1% are resettled somewhere else, you still have 97% of 65 million people left without hope. Here is our situation: one out of every 113 people is currently forcibly displaced from his or her home.
When all's said and done, however, we have reasons to not lose hope.
First, we can be confident that God is still in control. Adam and Eve were forcibly displaced from the Garden, Abraham was displaced from his homeland, the Israelites were displaced into Egypt by famine, and then again out of Egypt by signs and wonders. God isn’t surprised or dismayed by any of this.
Second, refugees are an important part of the solution to their own need. As we have listened to people share about their work with refugees, it is clear that the refugees do not, for the most part, want handouts. They want to work; they want to be part of the solution.
Third, and this perhaps is option four, we (the church and our own hometown) have the powerful potential to be open communities. We can show hospitality to strangers, we can shepherd and love people as God shepherds and loves us. We can make space in our hearts for people. We can make space in our lives physically so that we can engage with them and live alongside them.
God, show us how to love those who are forcibly displaced. Their numbers will only increase and not decrease. How can we love them as you love them rather than burying our heads in the sand?