The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency) recently released a report on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece. The report is based on an assessment in the last quarter of 2014. [Check out the report summary here.] Last year, roughly 43,500 asylum seekers and immigrants crossed the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece. That staggering number represents a 280% increase from 2013!
If you’re not familiar with the perils of the migrant trek from Turkey to Greece, here are two recent Vice News reports on the situation on the border between Greece and Turkey (note the dramatic – yet not unfitting – title, “Death Boats to Greece”)
For those who survive this journey, once in Greece these migrants face difficult living situations (many sleep rough on the streets, in parks, or in abandoned buildings), and a nightmare of an asylum process. The UNHCR report documents some of these challenges:
But problems remain in Greece’s asylum system despite reforms. These problems include difficulties in accessing the asylum procedure, a continuing backlog of unresolved cases under the old procedure, risk of arbitrary detention, inadequate reception conditions, lack of identification and support for individuals with specific needs, push-backs of people at the border, concerns over integration prospects and support for refugees, and xenophobia and racist violence.
We saw these situations firsthand while working with Helping Hands in Athens. This is a humanitarian crisis. Sometimes we don’t see these crises because we’re unaware; we’re distracted; we’re busy. But even when we do hear about these crises, in our world of 24/7 news, we can grow weary of tragedy. Or worse yet, we can be tempted to scan the news for the crisis du jour: what’s trendy, what are people talking about. We may not see, we may not remember, our compassion may be exhausted… but God cares about the oppressed, the vulnerable, and those in need.
God hears the cries of the oppressed (Deut. 26:7; just cherry-picking examples, here is one of many):
Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.
He promises to judge the oppressors (Amos 4:1; again one example of among many, but this is a favorite one for obvious reasons):
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy… The Lord GOD has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks…
And God calls us to care for the oppressed (Is. 58:6-7):
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
God cares about this crisis in Greece, and so should we. Pray with me for the situation in Greece:
- God, may our hearts reflect your compassion for the oppressed, the vulnerable, and the hurting;
- may the systems and processes in Greece that add to people’s suffering be turned on their heads; may justice and truth be the new norm;
- may the many Christians and organizations serving asylum seekers in Greece be filled with your strength and extend your hope in dark places;
- may the many refugees in Greece find peace and hope, and may they ultimately find the only lasting peace and the only satisfying hope: Jesus Christ.
Read the UNHCR report and summary here.