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'Advocacy must be a part of our DNA'

The refugee crisis requires greater advocacy on the part of Baptists Together to ensure the protection of the refugees, says Wale Hudson-Roberts as he reflects on the Commission on Racial and Gender Justice of the Baptist World Alliance


WCC refugee223Behind my colleagues and me were refugees standing outside flimsy tents and ramshackle structures made from tarpaulins and plastic sheeting. Piles of refuse lay close by while festering pools of water and mud released potent smells into the cramped mud swamped wasteland.

This was the ‘Jungle’ – in Calais – home to more than 4,000 refugees. In this abandoned stretch of land refugees walk without purpose on the muddy streets. Young people play with their mobile phones. Camp elders tell their stories of their precarious voyage; the waters threatening to capsize their insubstantial dinghies, the fear gripping their loved ones in the discomfort of the ocean silence.

Despite walls, fences and dogs attempting to prevent them from crossing French borders, the number of refugees continues to soar in France and elsewhere. This is not simply because the places they desire to live in are attractive destinations, but primarily because circumstances beyond their control force them to leave their families, homes and land.

Sadly the vast numbers of refugees come from Africa, hosting 26 per cent of the world’s refugee population with 48 per cent of the refugee population comprising of women and girls. As a continent Africa is the second largest producer of displacement in the world. Asia, largely because of the civil unrest in Afghanistan, is the biggest. Currently Africa has 2.8 million refugees and some 10 million internally displaced people.  

Conflict is one of the primary causes the movement of refugees. There is strong evidence to support the correlation between violent conflicts in Africa and parts of Asia and refugee outflow. Countries like Senegal, Jamaica and Bhutan have not experienced violent conflicts and have not produced substantive numbers of refugees. By contrast, most countries that have been involved in very violent conflicts – Bangladesh, Kampuchea name of the Khmer Rouge controlled state that existed between 1975 and 1979 in present-day Cambodia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Sudan – have regrettably been producers of vast numbers of refugees. The more relentless the war the greater the number of refugees.   

It is not just conflict that forces refugees to travel, often women with children perched on their backs attempting to scale wired fences created to mutilate. Political instability, poverty and unprecedented levels of unemployment also play a large part in driving the young, rich and poor from their beloved homelands. The push and pull factors behind migration are complex. They are forceful enough to push even the richest to plan routes from their homes to a foreign land. Leaving the European Union might decrease the flow of refugees entering the UK but it will not halt it. The human desire for dignity will always supersede the prospect of indefinite indignity.

Unfair trade deals between very unequal partners and its impact on women and communities in the Global south is another factor. Just trade polices between EU and African, Asian and Pacific countries can lift many women and people of colour out of poverty. The movement of refugees from Africa and Asia into the Global north can decrease if polices that intentionally seek to develop and empower the disenfranchised are implemented. It is a well known fact that unfair trade deals prevent communities in the global South from supporting their emerging industries. As a result they get locked and bolted into the cycle of poverty. It’s no wonder that large numbers of individuals are willing (be it reluctantly) to replace familiarity with uncertainty and ‘security’ with insecurity in search for refugee status in a distant land. 

So much learning took place in the Commissions, but for me the most important learning concerns the need for Baptist churches to be even more committed to advocacy. Nannie Helen Burrough, Sam Sharpe and Peter Thomas are known as subversive Baptists who through their advocacy skills spoke truth to power.

If Baptists are to influence governments and nongovernmental spaces advocacy must be a part of our DNA. Speaking with, and when necessary on behalf of, the ‘bottom billion.’


Wale Hudson-Roberts is chair of the Commission on Racial and Gender Justice of the Baptist World Alliance, which met during the BWA's Annual Gathering in July. He is also is the Justice Enabler at the Baptist Union of Great Britain

Baptist Times, 10/08/2016
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