By: Dr. Peter Makari, Executive, Middle East and Europe Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
The world’s attention is laser focused on the continuing crisis in Ukraine. The Russian assault has been devastating for the people and cities of the country. The unprovoked invasion has caused the displacement of more than 10 million people in the course of these last three and a half weeks, more than 3 million of whom are now refugees, having fled to neighboring countries. Most are Ukrainian, but there are African and Middle Eastern students and residents who have been stranded, not able to find the same welcome in European countries that Ukrainians have. It is the worst such case of displacement in Europe since World War II, exacerbating the already unprecedented global refugee crisis.
In their March 3 joint statement with Disciples leaders on the crisis in Ukraine, John Dorhauer and Karen Georgia Thompson drew attention to the treatment of non-Ukrainians, saying,
We are inspired by the outpouring of care, support, and generosity that … refugees are experiencing in their time of need. …. Lesser known and acknowledged are the barriers and obstacles being placed on people at those same borders and the abusive violence and discrimination being experienced by Africans, Middle Easterners and other foreign nationals. …The [Disciples] and [UCC] condemn the racism and discrimination being evidenced during this time of crisis. … Preventing ethnic non-Ukrainians from crossing into European countries is racist and it must be named as such. It is a denial of human rights, dignity and respect which should be afforded to all people.
Our partners in Africa and the Middle East see what is happening in Ukraine, and the racism that our UCC leadership has named. Black and brown people simply do not receive the same kind of welcome. And our partners in those regions know from direct experience. In the Middle East, for example, where almost 40% of the world’s displaced originate, massive displacement of people has been met with little compassion or welcome. In 11 years of war, almost 7 million Syrians have become refugees in neighboring countries, forced from their homes and communities. Many, but by far not all, are still in refugee camps waiting to learn their fate, not having been assisted with the same enthusiasm as those fleeing Ukraine are today. The rights of Palestinian refugees and their descendants have remained disrespected or ignored for 7 decades.
Further, international law is not applied in places like the Middle East as it has been with the invasion of Ukraine, with no similar outcry or accountability, and the media has not helped. For example, the Israeli occupation and annexation of Palestinian lands and people has continued for decades. Israel continues to receive billions of dollars in military aid, despite its military occupation. Sanctions are not on the table, even as the Putin government is heavily sanctioned. Boycotts have been made illegal in some of the same US states that now support boycotts of Russian products. Palestinian resistance to occupation is maligned, and Palestinian refugees are marginalized.
The author of Genesis tells us in the opening to chapter 5, “When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. God created them, and blessed them and named them ‘Humankind’ when they were created.” As people of faith, we are called to recognize God in every person, and respond to our siblings’ needs without distinction. That means attending to our neighbor’s needs, as well as holding accountable those who might discriminate.
As we watch the horrific and tragic reportage from Ukraine, filled with a sense of compassion and desire for justice, help us remember, O God of all, the many people in many circumstances around the world, also created in your image, whose stories are not as well known, and whose pain is just as deep. Amen.
For more reflections on racism, refugees and the war in Ukraine, check out “Psalms from the Wilderness and Decolonizing Empathy” by Dr. Sharon Fennema on the Word is Resistance Podcast hosted by SURJ-Faith.
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