On Forced Migration and Refugees in the Middle East
In the Christian era, the baby Jesus was one of the first migrants to flee for his life from King Herod, who wanted to kill him. The flight of Jesus to Egypt with Mary and Joseph represents a recurrent story for whole populations across the Middle East region, as generations have fled their countries and homes because of usurpation, invasion, wars and oppression.
No story better epitomizes the escape from danger and the search for a safer life than that of the baby Jesus. Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Matthew tells the story of Jesus following the visit of the Magi and the wish of King Herod, who thought Jesus represented a threat to his throne, to kill him:
“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.”
Today, millions of refugees also leave everything behind, living under tents, persisting in stormy weather and floods that destroy their makeshift dwellings, leaving women and children subject to disease and hunger despite humanitarian aid. For millions of Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Libyans, children, women and men, terrible military aggressions have devastated their countries under false pretexts of "democracy" or promises to overthrow dictatorships, or the desire to control natural resources or strategic geopolitical positions.
The U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been monitoring refugees worldwide. They report that for the past 65 years in Palestine, millions of Palestinians have been living as refugees in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and in surrounding host countries. UNHCR has described their plight as "by far the most protracted and largest of all refugee problems in the world today." According to the U.N., the total number of displaced Palestinians worldwide is 7.1 million.
For Iraq, UNHCR reports that in January 2013 there were over 1.6 million registered refugees. As for the Syrians who have fled their conflict-ravaged country for the past two years, there are more than 1.5 million refugees, according to UNHCR.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. Everyone has the right to leave any country and to return to his or her country.
But Palestinian refugees have been denied the right to return to their country, while the Charter of the United Nations has been violated with impunity by Israel, the country that has been established on the land of the Palestinians, with the complicity of the international community. All Palestinian refugees have the longing and will to return to their homeland, as Jesus was able to return from Egypt to his home in Nazareth after the death of Herod.
Let us unite in prayer that all displaced persons can also return to their homes as soon as possible. All refugees should have the right to return to their home countries, notwithstanding the generosity of a host country. We invoke our Lord Jesus Christ, in his mercy, to give us the courage and fortitude to stand up for justice and peace, and to inspire those in authority to show compassion to the migrants and refugees and to work toward their safe return to their homelands. In our Lord Jesus Christ we trust.
Laila Carmi has been a World Day of Prayer Palestine committee member since 1990, and a World Day of Prayer International Committee (IDPIC) representative for the Middle East region from 2003 to 2012.