I’m going to spend most of my day tomorrow with Kelsey, a twenty-something who joined IAFR last year to serve in Ventimiglia, Italy – an unknown smallish Italian city on the border with France.
Kelsey was with the IAFR research team that stumbled upon Ventimiglia and discovered many asylum-seekers and refugees are living there in squalid conditions – men, women and children from distant countries, most of which are experiencing protracted war.
Kelsey and I are going to explore what to anticipate when pioneering a new IAFR ministry location.
In preparation, I came upon the following definitions of pioneering…
One of the first to settle in a territory
A plant or animal capable of establishing itself in a bare, barren, or open area and initiating an ecological cycle
A person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development
All three of these ideas apply to what Kelsey plans to do. The second bullet point conjures up a beautiful and hopeful image that I hope will prove true of her life in coming years.
Some might look down on her because of her age and think it unreasonable for someone like her to step into the complexities and unknowns of Ventimiglia. But I am partial to twenty-somethings. I was 22 years old when I set out to pioneer ministry in a remote Austrian village that wasn’t even found on maps…
One of today’s challenges was to get legal counsel concerning how we process applications for housing in the shelter ministry we operate for asylum seekers in the Twin Cities. Things are often not as simple as they first appear.
I’m thankful for the excellent leadership of Sarah Miller, our local Ministry Leader. I’m also thankful for the wisdom and perspective of Jenn Urban, our legal consultant at Legal for Good on such issues.
Photo: Paul Sydnor (IAFR) talking with a refugee in the abandoned warehouse
This is one of many rooms in an abandoned warehouse that has become a makeshift refuge for 200-300 refugees and asylum seekers here in northern France. Conditions are terrible. Overcrowding and lack of sanitation make this a place in which sickness is inevitable. It is temporary home to mostly men, but some women as well. Nights are said to be somewhat frightening. But these people have nowhere else to go.
During our brief 1-2 hour visit, we met people from Gambia, Cameroon, Mali, Albania and Afghanistan. I have no idea what other nationalities are represented in the space.
A group of Afghan men invited us to sit with them beside their tents in the building. One was disappeared when we accepted their invitation. He returned moments later with a bowl filled with fresh fruit to share with us.
Photo: with two of the Afghan refugees by their tents
They spoke openly of their difficult journeys from Central Asia to Europe. One of the men shared with me has he has been denied asylum repeatedly by different countries – and how he is into his 4th appeal here in France. He’s been searching for refuge for 24 years now – including 10 years in Iran.
When I told them that I would pray for them – that God would lead them to a place that they could call home. Their eyes brightened. “That is What we need! Thank you!”
Please pray with us that God would call people to join with our team in Lille, France, full-time to help these friends survive and recover from forced displacement together with the church.
I put this image together today in preparation for the annual IAFR missionary conference in August. I will also pull it out this Thursday evening during our Open House (you are invited!) – and again during our annual board meeting in September.
The background is taken from the Map of the Refugee Highway, that I design and produce every year. The major refugee-producing nations are shaded red while major refugee-hosting countries are shaded yellow.
The American Immigration Council released a report in 2016 concerning US policy related to asylum seekers entering the country via the southern border. It provides some important perspective concerning the situation at the border today and reveals that the harshness of related US policy predates the present Trump administration. The present administration has simply taken the policy to a further extreme. The policies of both administrations undermine the Universal Human Right for people to seek asylum.
The report demonstrates the need for American citizens to stand up for the human rights of those desperate enough to make the dangerous journey to our southern border in hope of finding refuge from unchecked violence. The separation of children from their parents at the border is an outrage. But so are other policies (predating the Trump administration) that promote deterrence over fair process and humane treatment of asylum seekers.
Here are some excerpts from the 2016 report:
“Faced with the increase of Central Americans presenting themselves at the United States’ southwest border seeking asylum, President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), specifically, implemented an “aggressive deterrence strategy.” A media campaign was launched in Central America highlighting the risks involved with migration and the consequences of unauthorized immigration. DHS also dramatically increased the detention of women and children awaiting their asylum hearings, rather than releasing them on bond. Finally, the U.S. government publicly supported increased immigration enforcement measures central to the Mexican government’s Southern Border Program that was launched in July of 2014.2 Together, these policies functioned to “send a message” to Central Americans that the trip to the United States was not worth the risk, and they would be better off staying put…
…we may infer from this analysis of migration intentions that those individuals who do decide to migrate and successfully arrive at the U.S. border are far more likely to fit the profile of refugees than that of economic migrants. Upon arrival, however, they are still subject to the “send a message” policies and practices that are designed to deter others rather than identify and ensure the protection of those fleeing war-like levels of violence…
Why do these individuals continue trying to make the trip when seemingly fully aware of the dangers involved? The findings reported here suggest that no matter what the future might hold in terms of the dangers of migration, it is preferable to a present-day life of crime and violence. The unprecedented levels of crime and violence that have overwhelmed the Northern Triangle countries in recent years have produced a refugee situation for those directly in the line of fire, making no amount of danger or chance of deportation sufficient to dissuade those victims from leaving.”
I spent today updating this 6 minute video that offers an overview of the global refugee crisis with the latest statistics along with a biblical perspective of forced displacement. It is always encouraging to hear how widely it is used by churches, agencies, networks and others internationally.
It is all part of trying to create space in the hearts and minds of others for refugees.