A Million and Counting

As advocates for refugees, we believe that we are called to follow the command of Isaiah 16:3, which says, "do not betray the refugees." Hear the perspective of the Tutapona country director for the field office of Uganda, Tim Manson, as he shares some thoughts about the refugee crises we are facing today.

The recent US decision to temporarily close its borders to refugees has heightened debate around this already global issue. As I write this there are massive numbers of people fleeing war zones in the Middle East and Central and Eastern Africa. Wealthy (and some not so wealthy) European countries have been inundated with refugees over the past few years, resulting in major political and social change. But by far the majority of refugees end up in developing countries. 

As one example, Uganda has an open door policy for refugees. Early this year, it was announced by UNHCR that the number of refugees residing in Uganda had just passed the one million mark. Half of these arrived last year in a six-month surge between July and December in which a daily average of 2,400 people fled the civil war in South Sudan. Uganda filled existing refugee settlements, then opened new ones, which in turn filled up. People are still crossing as I write this. Yet there is no indication that Uganda’s stance is about to change. Uganda is not a particularly big, nor a wealthy country.  I should point out that Uganda is not alone in taking more than their fair share. Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Jordan (not exhaustive) have all taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees as well. 

Just to hammer home the imbalance, last year my home country of New Zealand (about the same land area as Uganda) accepted 1,000 refugees. 

I have a couple of thoughts around this. Firstly, refugees are a group of people who are uniquely in need of support. Multiple factors coincide to make theirs a particularly difficult context. Poverty, cultural and linguistic dislocation, uncertainty about the future, loss of loved ones and often significant psychological trauma can all contribute to create a bleak outlook. New Zealand, the US and many other developed countries clearly could be doing a lot more. It is important for their citizens to make noise. However, I am not convinced that the resettlement of refugees from poorer to wealthier countries is the only answer. Countries like Uganda that already host huge numbers of refugees need support. I also don't think our governments are responsible for carrying out all our acts of social justice for us. Not only wealthy governments, but also wealthy individuals should find creative ways of supporting refugees.  

Tutapona works with refugees in Iraq and Uganda, offering group programs to help people recover from the pain of psychological trauma. I can say from first-hand experience that the work of Tutapona is helping to restore hope to refugees at a time when their options are limited (and reducing). I encourage you to get behind that.

Tim Manson