Refugees face daily dilemmas

Published April 1, 2007

It is an impossible dilemma to imagine.

James Manyiel, a Sudanese refugee living at the Lutheran World Federation (LWF)-run Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, recently described the fear that refugees have of returning home since parts of the country were still experiencing conflict: “Once the refugees return, they are vulnerable to many militias. These (armed groups) rape and abduct women. In some cases they forcefully marry the women and girls to repay the killing of kin.”

Mr. Manyiel was speaking to a delegation of LWF church leaders, program co-ordinators and staff of the Department for World Service in field offices from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America to the 7th Assembly of the World Social Form in Nairobi.

(Like the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is a member of a worldwide communion. Headquartered in Geneva, the LWF represents 140 member churches in 78 countries, representing 66.2 million Christians.)

Under the theme Another World is Possible, members of the LWF delegation participated in debates which focused on poverty, HIV and AIDS, environment, human rights, economic globalization, governance issues, debt cancellation, repatriation and the rights of women.  

It became painfully obvious that refugees are confronted daily with challenges related to human rights, with little if any freedom, while facing insecurity and with zero potential for economic growth within encamped life. Bishop Sumoward Harris of the Lutheran Church in Liberia called on “national leaders to turn national resources to repatriation and housing, development and education, instead of war, which is of particular concern for me as I come from a war-torn country.”

The LWF, meanwhile, lead a specific discussion about the implications of refugee repatriation under the heading, Human Rights and Mobility and Citizenship Challenges. The background to the dialogue made it clear that since the January 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government of Sudan and the South-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, hope for the repatriation of Sudanese refugees had deteriorated badly.

The critical subject of huge foreign debt was also addressed. The 2004 Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Wangari Maathai, challenged church leaders to rally their large numbers to urge the world’s developed countries to cancel the foreign debts owed by poor countries. “The churches are the spiritual leaders, who have the moral authority to challenge injustices, and stand up for the poor, the marginalized and humiliated. The debt can not be tolerated because they are killing our people,” she said in her keynote address.

Angel Furlan, former president of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Argentina, also spoke of the illegitimate foreign debt which violates human rights. “The debt is responsible for real genocide. There is also a consensus in terms of its analysis in relation to dictatorial regimes and corruption.”

Former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and 1984 Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu said, “When we ask you to cancel unpayable debts, we are not asking you to do us a favour. It is the best form of self-interest.”

Rev. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Lutheran church, Toronto, and writes for various church and secular publications.


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