Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 18, 1999
Millions of refugees live a tenuous life
The boatloads of people on our western coast lead us to take another look at the refugee phenomenon. Refugees are people who are on the run from their fellow humans. They flee what the Gospel refers to as brothers and sisters.
Their numbers at any given time fluctuate from 10 to 15 million, or several millions more, depending on who is counting.
Whatever the precise number, millions of people, entire communities and populations, are displaced and dispossessed and forced to wander through countries and continents in search of a safe haven.
The vast majority of them live in tent cities on the fringes of society as the poorest of the poor in another Third World country.
About half of all "official" refugees eke out a starvation existence in Africa. From 1965 to 1985 the number of refugees in Africa rose from half a million to seven million.
Not surprisingly, the numbers climbed at the time of the 1972 oil crisis. Globalization is having the same effect in the 1990s.
The official numbers only reflect an account of political refugees who flee out of fear for persecution because of race, religion, nationality, social status or political conviction and are registered as such outside of their country of origin.
Many are doomed to a life of internal refugee status because they don't have the means to get away.
Many millions more - and increasing at an alarmingly rapid rate - are the so-called economic refugees in search of something to eat, a roof over their heads, work for a living wage and a future for their children.
These children are called migrants and some of us call them opportunists when they show up on our shores. But they are fleeing man-made economic circumstances which have become unbearable.
Again, the vast majority of migrants are peasants, pushed off the land, who find a precarious refuge in the slums of Third World cities. They pitch their tents of black plastic along the road, they occupy city parks en masse, or take over private property in the night and fashion their dwellings of cardboard, tin cans and found materials.
For many others, even such a humble abode is a luxury. They live in streets, sleeping on sidewalks, under bridges and in culverts. It is a massive exodus of humanity fleeing the inhumanity of other humans.
Refugees are people who are forced to leave their home and are unable or unwilling to return because they are afraid of persecution, structural adjustment, civil war, oppression and absolute abandonment. They are the excluded, the outcasts and redundants of society.
Some economists claim that 30 per cent of the world population is superfluous, of no real value in economic terms. They count for nothing and are seen as a liability.
To be a refugee means that you have left your home because you had to, and that you have not arrived yet because you are not allowed to. You are a victim of an unjust distribution of power and wealth.
You become the political football of rich nations who pride themselves on accepting a select few thousand out of the many millions. You become the object of manipulation by bureaucrats in office towers, the pawn in the hands of extortionists, cheap labour for profit makers and a noble cause for charitable groups.
Your family is scattered all over the globe wherever asylum can be found. You have become a question of concern for all of humanity, but a question we are ashamed to ask ourselves.
Deep down we realize that as you wander from place to place, but for the grace of God, there go we.
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