A reflection for Refugee Week

By Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ, 20 June 2024
Image: Refugee Week/Refugee Council of Australia


20 June is the United Nations’ World Refugee Day

June 16- 22 is National Refugee Week


When we think of refugees, it is easy to be overwhelmed by numbers and bad news. 9 million people, more than a third of Australia’s population, have been driven from home in Sudan, a whole nation has been displaced in Gaza, people have fled violence, starvation and poverty throughout the world, and governments in wealthy nations have increasingly treated refugees as less than human. Bad news comes in floods that can leave us despairing or apathetic.

The 2024 theme of Refugee Week invites us to reflect on family and finding freedom. It draws our minds and hearts away from the tyranny of numbers to the lives of the women, men and children whom we call refugees. It invites us to see them from inside. We may then listen to the stories of their flight from the places and communities they called home. We may be awed by the passion for life and freedom that led them to seek life elsewhere, may celebrate the resilience that they have shown as they walked such a hard road, and may wonder at their devotion to family in the face of all the crises that test it.

We may also celebrate the kindness of strangers whom they met along the way: the people who offered them shelter and food, who welcomed them, helped them to settle in a strange new country and reached out to them in friendship on their long journey. These are the gifts that we would like our families to receive in hard times. They are also the qualities that we would like to think are characteristic of our own nation. Refugee Week invites us to celebrate them in those who treat others, not as strangers, but as sisters and brothers in the world family.

When we enter the life of refugees from within and see their extraordinary stories of suffering, resilience, love of family and the importance of small gestures of kindness in their lives, we have a lens through which to judge the rejection of them by wealthy nations like our own. Dumping them in poor nations like Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Rwanda, threatening to deport them or seize them out of our community and lock them in internment camps, arranging to deport their family members if they do not agree to leave our nation voluntarily, belong to a horror show of human meanness.

This Refugee Week, however, is not a time to curse the darkness. There is enough of that in our world. Refugee Week is a time to turn our eyes to the myriad lights that shine in refugees’ eyes, to the candles of their generosity of spirit in the face of so much rejection, and to the pools of light surrounding their families. It also calls us from cursing the darkness to light our own candles as we reach out to people who seek our protection and as we plead their cause.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.


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