Acknowledging the dire plight of refugees and the need to raise awareness of their situation worldwide, the United Nations (UN) in 2001 established World Refugee Day, to be recognized each year on June 20. In 2016, the Seventh-day Adventist Church added its own emphasis by establishing the first World Refugee Sabbath, set for the Sabbath preceding every World Refugee Day. This year both fall on the same date: June 20.
The UN defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.” They have “a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group”; and “most likely cannot return home or are afraid to do so.”¹ The leading causes cited for their flight are ethnic, tribal, and religious violence.² In 1950, the UN General Assembly established the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to take the lead in protecting these most vulnerable of people by safeguarding their rights and well-being.³
Statistics indicate that more than 70 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, with 37,000 fleeing their homes each day because of conflict or persecution. The largest number come from three nations: South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria. Europe is host to some 17 percent of all displaced people.⁴ A recent airstrike and escalated fighting in Syria’s Idlib province resulted in close to a million refugees streaming into Turkey and on to Greece.⁵
TED AND EUD EMBRACE THE CHALLENGE
Although refugees can be found in many world regions, because of the large concentration of refugees within their territories the Trans-European (TED) and Inter-European (EUD) divisions particularly embrace the opportunity to serve refugees and to recognize World Refugee Sabbath.
“I’ve been involved with World Refugee Sabbath for the past four years, talking with refugees in France, Greece, Italy, and Serbia and coordinating reports from across Europe,” says Victor J. Hulbert, director of TED communication and publishing departments. “I’ve seen the humanity in these people and how today’s businessperson can, through no fault of their own, become tomorrow’s refugee. Christian compassion forces us to act.”
TED and EUD communications are providing numerous materials, resources, and reports to their unions and the wider Adventist community for the event. The materials will be translated and made available in various languages (see bottom of page).
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
One World Refugee Sabbath report focuses on Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, which is experiencing a particularly desperate situation regarding their refugee population.
“ADRA [Adventist Development and Relief Agency] is highly respected in Bosnia and Herzegovina following their impartial service during the Balkans crisis of the 1990s, including the siege of Sarajevo,” Hulbert explains. “Together with the Red Cross, it’s one of the few charities providing desperately needed support for the forgotten refugees stuck in Bosnia and Herzegovina in desperate winter conditions.”⁶
ADRA is actively providing support to refugees at Ušivak camp near Sarajevo, established in 2018 in an old military base. Before this, migrants camped in vacant buildings or slept on streets, even in winter conditions.
“Conditions at the camp are less than perfect,” Hulbert says. “But ADRA is committed to help as best it can.”
Many migrant children are attending an elementary school next to the camp, together with local children. Even though it’s a poor community, local residents are partnering with ADRA Netherlands to provide food and clothing for refugees.
In neigboring Serbia, ADRA runs a community center in Belgrade that facilitates education for children who have dropped behind in their schooling, operates women’s services and apprenticeship training, and offers a safe space for people who need to recover from their difficult pasts. Students from the Newbold College’s Year in Service and Mission program in England are among those who volunteer.
As a result of a change in local government leadership, previously enjoyed assistance for refugees is no longer forthcoming.
“The refugee situation has deteriorated a lot in recent months,” says Claudette Hannebicque, director of ADRA Dunkirk in northern France. “Last winter [city leaders] of Dunkirk opened a center for families and a gymnasium for single men, but this year it’s not so.”
Some 700 refugees have traveled to that region in search of help. Medical teams such as Médecins du Monde and the Red Cross, they say, are overwhelmed by the needs.
“There is limited water available for them, no toilets, and only a few showers,” notes Corrado Cozzi, communication director for EUD. “These are very, very insufficient to supply their needs.”
“Refugees are taking more and more risks to try to reach the U.K. by canoe, and there are often rescues at sea, and missing and dead people,” adds Hannebicque. “It’s difficult to even tell the stories.”
EVERY CHRISTIAN A MISSIONARY
Let’s remember that “every Christian is to be a missionary. In sympathy and compassion we are to minister to those in need of help, seeking with unselfish earnestness to lighten the woes of suffering humanity.”⁷
Let each of us strive to live and serve as Jesus did.
To learn more, go to adra.org or check with your local conference or union office.
TED and EUD communications are providing numerous materials, resources, and reports to their unions and churches for World Refugee Sabbath, including the following:
■ a full sermon script and a refugee sermon video with preacher Marjukka Ostrovljanovic. Ostrovljanovic, a specialist in Old Testament and originally from Finland, is pastor of a district in Germany that has the opportunity to help many refugees in the community.
■ a series of short video reports to feature in churches and share on social media. The reports will highlight activities and stories about:
• local churches and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Germany;
• a Pathfinder Club in Ireland made up totally of refugee and migrant children;
• a church in Dunkirk, France, where members provide physical and social support to migrants who sleep on streets and in woods as they wait to cross the English Channel to the United Kingdom; and
• Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, which is experiencing a particularly desperate situation regarding their refugee population (see main article).