World Refugee Day 2017: The Numbers and the Stories
Today is World Refugee Day.
Here are some numbers:
The number of people currently displaced in the world, today.
That means people who've fled their homes in order to stay alive. Could be because of fear of potential persecution. Could be because of looming conflict. Whatever the danger, it's big enough — life-threatening enough — that fathers and mothers take their children and what few belongings they can carry, abandon everything else and seek refuge somewhere else.
Currently - of the 65.6 million displaced people, 22.5 million of those people are registered refugees.
That means people who have fled their homes — and left their country — in order to stay alive. In reality there are many more refugees who are not registered with the UNHCR. This number has never been this large. Ever. And the number continues to grow.
The number of refugees (out of 22.5 million) who were actually resettled last year. A percentage of one percent. That's not very many people in the massive scope of this crisis.
And this crisis will be ongoing for decades.
The problem with numbers is that they are numbers. There are some folks who find math moving. There are others who find math overwhelming and shut down when the digits roll.
I'm one of the later.
The numbers are actually people. And the people have a story.
So tell me a story.
Today is World Refugee Day.
My hope today is that more people will care about the numbers, the stories, the people. Because these numbers are important and they don't tell lies. They are stories. They are lives.
They are children like Ahmed, Ghaida, Karam and Rama.
Let me explain.
I came across a little paperback book last week.
The number of refugee children in Thessaloniki, Greece who made up eight fairy tales recorded in Traveling Tales: A Collective Creation.
I know little about the folks who put this together. It seems there is a small group of good folks in Thessaloniki, Greece who are working to find homes for the refugees who have sought refuge in their community. In the process, these good folks in Thessaloniki began asking children to tell them stories. And they recorded and shared those stories for the rest of the world in this book.
While I wish the creators of this book had worked more closely with a native English speaking editor (yes, there's a typo on the front cover, and the English version is a bit awkward in places), the value of hearing fairy tales created by refugee children was oddly moving. (And the illustrations are beautiful.)
These numbers are historic. The myths below reflect deeper truths.
The themes in these 8 stories are significant and profound. Movement and justice. Care for the weak. Unlikely heroes. The safety and beauty of a forest. Being a decent, welcoming human.
For example, the story of how three little rabbits named Cucu, Fufu and Nunu overcame an evil rat who stole all of the carrots. It's a story which gives a child's perspective of conflict and a clarified misunderstanding reveals the true enemy. It's quite profound, really.
The fairy tale is the truth. Read it. It's there.
The number which represents a significant question.
What will be said about us in 100 years? What stories will be told?
As extraordinary and fascinating as they are, I don't know that any of the stories in this book will be retold in 100 years.
But I do believe the story of this crisis will be retold in 100 years. It is the stuff of history — and how the world responds to this crisis is a vital part of the story to be told in a 100 years.
As a person of faith and a follower of Jesus, I believe the church plays a vital part of this story. How today's global Christian church responds to the current refugee crisis will either be happy ending or be an historical tragedy.
I only hope we will be remembered as those who welcomed.
"Traveling Tales: a Collective Creation" is worth the $10 — and purportedly, the funds from the sale of the book are going to support this group's efforts to find suitable housing for refugees in Thessaloniki.