World Refugee Day  20 June 2015

Teresa Engländer

In 2014, AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED spent more than 10 million euro helping refugees and displaced persons around the world.

When the militia attacked their village, they knew that there was no time to lose. They grabbed their children and ran for their lives.

 Let us call them Family G. from Nigeria: the father was killed as they fled, the mother and children made it to the safety of a refugee camp. However, although the camp offers a certain degree of security, there is not enough of anything else. Water, food, blankets, medicine and hygiene items are in scarce supply. The refugees are overcome by a deep lassitude. They are traumatised. They have watched family members die or lost them while trying to flee. They no longer have a home they can return to. The uncertainty gnaws like a hungry rat. They ask themselves the same question every day: what now?

Family G. represents the countless refugee families around the world, all of whom have similar stories to tell. Approximately 51.2 million people are currently in search of safe haven. They come from Nigeria, Eritrea or South Sudan, from Syria, Iraq or Ukraine. They are fleeing war and terror, political or religious suppression. Their persecutors may bear different names, but sow destruction under the same mask of hatred and delusion.

The Islamic terror organisation Boko Haram has been ravaging northern Nigeria and Cameroon for six years. Around 1.5 million Nigerians are searching for safe haven within the country, another 136,405 people have fled to neighbouring countries. Aid to the Church in Need is helping displaced persons from the especially hard hit dioceses Bamburi and Maiduguri in Nigeria with 45,000 euro and from Maroua-Mokolo, Cameroon, with another 14,900 euro. In Central Africa the rebel forces Seleka are causing havoc. Here, communities overflowing with displaced persons have received 65,000 euro in aid.

In South Sudan and Eritrea, people are fleeing both the unrests that keep breaking out between individual rebel forces as well as political and religious suppression. According to UNHCR, more than 560,000 South Sudanese are searching for a safe haven. Many have found refuge in refugee camps in Ethiopia: since 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has come to their aid with 66,000 euro. Projects for Eritrean refugees have been funded with 97,000 euro.

In the Middle East, war and the terror organisation Islamic State have displaced hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Christians and intensified the wave of emigration in these countries that has been increasing exponentially since the Arab Spring began in 2011. UNHCR estimates that there are 6.6 million refugees from Iraq and just under 4 million registered Syrian refugees. Many of them are fleeing to neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Since 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has already donated 7.2 million euro to provide pastoral and charitable care to Iraqi refugees and another 4.3 million euro – mostly in emergency relief – for Syrian refugees inside and outside of the country.

The Gaza Strip remains in a constant, sad state of unrest. Aid to the Church in Need has donated 15,000 euro in 2015 to ensure that displaced Christians have access to medical care in this region.

These and other figures, source: UNHCR, http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c4d6.htm

During the past year, the aid organisation donated about 40,000 euro to the Ukraine to fund a soup kitchen and provide medical care to people fleeing the Crimean and another around 60,000 euro in 2015 to ensure that refugees have access to pastoral care.

From the very beginning, refugees were a concern for Aid to the Church in Need. This is still the case today.

Through its refugee aid projects, Aid to the Church in Need is keeping the legacy of Father Werenfried alive, who recognised the distress of German refugees after World War II and called upon his Flemish compatriots to make donations. In his very first, evocative begging letter he wrote: “Many of us have it warm; we are doing well. We have a flat, glass windows that protect us from the cold and, despite the scarcity of food and other things that prevails because of the post-war period, despite extortionate prices, there is very little that we actually lack. But do we even think about the fact that outside, thousands of Marys and Josephs are making their way through Europe? That Christ is weeping in the guise of the poor, the homeless and the refugees, of hungry and thirsty people, of those incarcerated or sick, and of all those whom He has called the lowliest of His children and in whose misery He has concealed His incarnate form?” An aid organisation arose out of this mission. The pontifical aid organisation Aid to the Church in Need developed out of Father Werenfried’s first fundraisers and now has benefactors in more than 21 countries. In 2014, the organisation supported around 5000 local church projects around the world with donations totalling 100 million euro. Just from January 2014 to today (June 2015), the aid organisation has invested more than 10 million euro in projects for refugees. 


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