How should we respond to global refugee crisis? As a personal response and a sign of solidarity, I participated in a multi-sectoral gathering in the central city of Groningen, Netherlands. We celebrated, expresed, and gave a warm welcome to Syrian and Eritrean refugees. During the celebration, I had mixed feelings — both happy and unsettled mind. On the one hand, I’m happy that someone cares for people like them. I have to confess, Dutch hospitality was overwhelming during the gathering. It was an incredible feeling indeed! With much sincerity, the government of the Netherlands made an impressive and wonderful response. On the other hand, I was unsettled by how the Western nations responded to the global refugee crisis.
These questions, however, remained unanswered and simultaneously bombarded my mind. How should we really address this problem? And what does this current refugee crisis really mean to us? I firmly believe that merely providing a safe haven for refugees is not enough to end this pervasive problem. In 2015, there was a wide range of mass protests across the European Union. Thousands clamoured loudly for an open policy in behalf of Syrian and Eritrean refugees. The results were varied. It reaped different reactions from Dutch people and various parts of Europe. Polarization among Europeans are still being felt until this writing. Some Dutch people that I encountered were complaining about the burden of taxation. For them, to receive more refugees may conceivably imply additional taxes. Others have been worried about their national security and pointed out the risks of having an open door policy. Others were concerned about the future image of the European Union. Some Europeans, proud of their national identity, have expressed their strong patriotism and highlighted their desire for a stronger, ethnocentric, nationalist government.
During the celebration, I grabbed an opportunity to ask some questions to a Dutch activist: “Hi! Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Nope,” the Dutch activists replied. “Please ask your question.”
“Why do Dutch people welcome these refugees with much delight?” I inquired.
The Dutch activist got back to me with a silly question: “Do you want an honest answer?”
“Yes!” I answered.
He continued: “Well, honestly, this is an embarrassing truth because we live by them!”
I was puzzled by his statement: “What do you mean by that?”
“Well, it simple,” he said. “We sell vast amount of weaponry that is causing this problem!”
I was struck by this statement. I stopped for a moment and kept thinking. This striking statement reminds me of something. It made me look again at the global “War On Terror”.
The ‘War On Terror’ has become a major catch-phrase in world affairs. Interestingly, the terms ‘war on terror,’ ‘terrorism’and ‘radical Islamist’, though they obviously have different meanings, have been used interchangeably by the big media. Worse, its connotation stereotypes Islam. Today, this language permeates in every area of public policy and foreign policy of most Western states.
The ‘War On Terror’, as a global narrative, enriches the pockets of the military-industrial complex or the defense industry. According to the December 2015 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States and some European countries earned $401 billion in defense products and services by the end of December 2014. This is unimaginable. A terrible reality to know! I can’t help but ask questions: Who really benefits from this industry? And above all, to whom and where were these weapons of destruction used?
These subjects of military-industrial complex and war typically raise a number of questions; not all of which I believe are helpful in framing the modern global problem of refugees. According to the 2014-2015 report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there were 51 to 59.5 million people who were forcibly displaced (refugees, internal displaced people, and asylum seekers) by war; the worst data ever recorded since the end of World War II. Top origins, according to UNHCR Global Trends 2014 report, are Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
Though this may be most disturbing, I dare say that war is the root cause of global refugee crisis. The military-industrial complex amasses enormous wealth through the sufferings of innocent people because of this ‘War on Terror.’
I am aware that this is a very complicated issue. The more I immerse myself in this subject, the more questions confront me: Why would these countries feel the need to have massive production of weaponry? Who among these weapon-producing countries can be considered as allies? Who among them are deemed as enemies? How exactly do these defense industry decision-makers determined which states are allies and which states are rogue? Or are we just advocating and practising what Slavoj Zizek calls renewed barbarism?
Ironically, there’s a lot of money to be made in the so-called defense industry, which is actually a war-making mega-business. And yet, and unfortunately, there’s not enough funding for education, eradication of poverty, and other inclusive development initiatives that would generate descent jobs and livelihood.
In the midst of the refugee crisis in the European Union, Slavoj Zizek suggests that a complex measure be undertaken as a matter of priority: “First, Europe will have to reassert its full commitment to provide means for the dignified survival of the refugees. There should be no compromise here: Large migrations are our future, and the only alternative to such commitment is a renewed barbarism (what some call ‘clash of civilizations’).”
What does these mean for the Church? The Church ought to be true to her prophetic mission. The Church ought to participate in the struggle for a creation of a just society for all. Our response as a faith-based organisation and organism must be based on the concept of God as a God of Justice and Inclusion. One of the sacred names of God is JUSTICE! The Christian Scripture provides many stories of prophets who, with the guidance of YHWH, denounced human rights violation; they sought for justice. The Prophet Isaiah, for example, denounced the injustices during his time (Isaiah 5:7; 10:1-2). Prophet Isaiah critiqued the landlords, the judges and the officials of the state for exploiting the poor, for corruption and for manipulation of the system to suit their own evil interests. In short, the Christian Scripture provides reasons for the Church to act upon her calling as prophet to work for justice and peace in the world.
We, as prophetic Church, must condemn, in all its many forms, this renewed barbarism!
Slavoj Zizek (2015, Sept. 9), “We Can’t Address the EU Refugee Crisis Without Confronting Global Capitalism” In This Times. Retrieved from http://inthesetimes.com/article/18385/slavoj-zizek-european-refugee-crisis-and-global-capitalism.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2014-2015 Report (2015, December). Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home.
“The World at War,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refigees, Global Trends Forced Displacement 2014 Report (2015, December). Retrieved from http://www.unhcr.org/statistics.