REFUGEE CRISIS: GENUINE CONCERN OR MISLEADING SKEPTICISM?
An email currently circulating Christian networks calls for an “explanation” for a number of assertions regarding the Syrian refugees arriving in Europe from war-torn destinations.
The email reads as follows:
“Can someone please explain the following regarding the Syrian refugees arriving in Europe from worn torn destinations.
- How come they all seem to have endless supplies of money to pay the people traffickers.
- Most appear to have working mobile phones.
- Most appear well dressed and fed and do not appear to be suffering the effects of malnutrition.
- Most of the refugees are men of military age.
- Why are other Muslim nations not helping their fellow Muslims (Saudi, Kuwait, U.A.E., Indonesia to name a few).
- How come the two boys and their mother drowned off the Turkish coast can be returned for burial to the place they fled so quickly, what I believed to be IS held territory.
Could it be they are being paid to come to Europe as a way to increase the Muslim population and get IS fighters embedded in Europe? We all know life is cheap from an IS point so the loss of a few lives along the way has no meaning for them as long as it benefits their cause.
Just a thought.”
Sadly, the intent of this email is not really about discovering truth – the questions are intended to create doubt, which leads to suspicion, cynicism, fear and ultimately apathy.
As this particular email calls for explanations, the INcontext team would like to offer a deeper look at some of the assertions. The team recently visited the Middle East, and has spoken to ministry leaders, pastors, people working among the refugees, and refugees themselves – in Europe, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. This communication has confirmed our understanding of the situation, but beyond personal opinion and sentiments, the ultimate consideration in the context of the refugee crisis is still the words of Jesus Christ, who came to set captives free.
With that in mind, here are some FACTS in response to the above email (and those similar to it):
1. How come they all seem to have endless supplies of money to pay the people traffickers.
2. Most appear to have working mobile phones.
3. Most appear well dressed and fed and do not appear to be suffering the effects of malnutrition.
Yes, the refugees would have had to pay exorbitant amounts of money to people traffickers, but many of them would have sold everything they owned in order to buy passage on either a boat or a truck. Being able to afford these travel costs is not an indication of much other than desperation and determination, or that chance that those fleeing may have been working professionals (e.g. doctors, lawyers) in their countries of origin.
Yes, most of the refugees do not appear to be suffering from malnutrition. But for the effects of malnutrition to be visible, months of hunger would need to have preceded the journey. This does not mean that the refugees are not presently starving or even dying of thirst. The author of the email appears to have little knowledge of the medical symptoms of malnutrition and days without food.
Yes, many of the refugees look well dressed and may even have a mobile phone. 40% of all refugees are highly skilled professionals and well-educated people who had to leave everything behind in a choice between life and death, and mobile phones are increasingly common in even poorer, war-torn countries today. Mobile phones would be the primary means of communication for families and friends as they travel, therefore it is not surprising that they would have been perceived as an essential for the risky journey.
One refugee interviewed by an INcontext co-worker was of one of the leading cardiologists in Iraq – he was approached by IS followers who gave him the option of converting to Islam, facing beheading or leaving the country. The family chose to flee, but before they left, they were searched to make sure that they were not taking any money or resources with them. They literally fled with the clothes on their backs and what they could carry with them. It must be an abomination to God if Christians who live by the grace of God and experience the abundance of God judge these people who have left home and country as terrorists and jihadis, simply because they own a mobile phone or are well dressed.
4. Most of the refugees are men of military age.
Many of the men featured in pictures from Europe are those who have either sent the women and children ahead or are going ahead of their families in order to secure a future to which they can come. The honour of caring for family is an integral part of the worldview in this region, and men will do whatever necessary in order to ensure that their family is cared for – either by going ahead or by following behind.
In terms of the age question, many of the men are “of military age” simply because they are the only ones capable of making the ‘journey of death’. Few older people would survive the perilous journey by sea or by road, and would therefore rather endure the hardship back home. Using this as a reason to assume they are IS fighters is both manipulative and false.
5. Why are other Muslim nations not helping their fellow Muslims (Saudi, Kuwait, U.A.E., Indonesia to name a few).
This comment is not well researched. According to the United Nations report on refugees in 2014 (http://www.unhcr.org/556725e69.html), six of the top 10 host nations of refugees are Muslim: Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan and Chad. Egypt has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees as well. The truth about Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE is that they have offered their support but refugees do not want to go there because they know they will be accepted as third- or fourth-rate citizens. There are far more opportunities for a better future in Europe, and the refugees know this.
Hope is not a sin and dreaming of a better future does not make all the refugees terrorists. The fact that these dreams are seen as being possible in ‘Christian Europe’ is more of an opportunity than a threat for the Western world, and it will be a dark day in the history of the Church when those in need are seen as the enemy and not those among whom ministry is both needed and possible.
6. How come the two boys and their mother drowned off the Turkish coast can be returned for burial to the place they fled so quickly, what I believed to be IS held territory. Could it be they are being paid to come to Europe as a way to increase the Muslim population and get IS fighters embedded in Europe? We all know life is cheap from an IS point so the loss of a few lives along the way has no meaning for them as long as it benefits their cause.
Once again, this is a provocative question with little understanding, and it is sad that the author of this email did not take time to research the culture, the worldview and the beliefs of people of this region.
Firstly, the assertion that the refugees had “fled so quickly” (and the idea that reaching the shores of Europe ‘easily’) indicates no comprehension of the hardship, suffering, trauma and exhaustion that this flight would have entailed. It is unthinkable that any Christian views this hardship through selfish eyes of apathy. The words (and warning) of Jesus in Matthew 25 should be the benchmark for every onlooker: “I was hungry and you didn’t feed Me…”
A further lack of insight from the author concerns the fact that returning the dead to their place of birth is an integral part of the ‘honour and shame’ worldview – it is as much a religious duty in the Middle East as it would be for a Christian not be burnt in India and thrown into the Ganges. With all the world’s attention focused on Aylan Kurdi (the little boy washed up on the beach), it is no surprise that financial support was forthcoming to make this possible, and the host country gracefully secured the funds for the this family’s dead to be buried in their homeland.
It is unlikely that IS would send masses of fighters to Europe as refugees – if they wanted to send large numbers of their people in, they would have faster, safer and more effective ways of doing so. IS is currently the wealthiest terrorist organisation in the world, with access to millions of US dollars gained through oil sales, extortion and donations, therefore they would be able to get people into Europe in a more conventional manner.
Yes, there might be IS supporters among the refugees, but the reality is that even if one out of every 100 refugees is an IS fighters sent in (and it is unlikely to be that many), there are 99 people desperately seeking hope, thereby making their hearts open to the Gospel of Christ.
This email concludes with the words “Just a thought”.
Be aware, however, of the manipulation and dangers in these “thoughts” – spreading suspicion, fear and hatred will very quickly turn our attention away from what God is wanting His people to do at this critical time.