WORLD REFUGEE DAY SPOTLIGHTS REFUGEES’ PANDEMIC PLIGHT
The words of a father who says “If my children get sick, I don’t know where I’d turn” on SAT-7 spotlight the impossible conditions facing refugees during the coronavirus pandemic. This World Refugee Day (20 June), please pray for refugees in the Middle East, who remain at risk and in need even as restrictions are eased in some countries.
“Before coronavirus, our fear for our children was at 100 percent. We were already worried about their education. Now we fear for their health. If any one of them gets sick, I don’t know where I’d turn,” says Abdel-Razak El-Afnan. He speaks via video from Dalhamieh refugee camp in Zahle, Lebanon, on the SAT-7 ARABIC program You Are Not Alone.
“We are living in difficult conditions. It’s a very bad situation,” says El-Afnan, who fled Syria in 2012. In the overcrowded camp, people try to stay in their tents as much as possible. “The tents cannot protect us,” he says, “but we try.” As El-Afnan and his wife have no right to work in Lebanon, they and their three daughters – one of whom has a liver condition – survive on just over US$1 a day. When presenter Sirene Semerdjian asks if coronavirus testing or disinfecting have taken place in the camp, he says, “No. No-one came.”
El-Afnan’s story raises awareness of the needs of refugees in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) at a crucial moment. While camps have not so far recorded large-scale coronavirus outbreaks, possibly because of a lack of testing, the pandemic has reduced access to vital services and caused widespread loss of income among refugees, plunging more into dire poverty. UNICEF estimates an additional 51,000 young children could die in the region by the end of 2020 due to additional strain on health systems – and refugees were already among those most vulnerable to a lack of healthcare.
Al-Afnan speaks from the Lebanon camp where he lives with his family
“When you are living in a refugee camp, where you cannot isolate or distance, these are incredible challenges. While we are looking after our own communities, we should have our eye on refugee communities, on vulnerable communities,” says His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London and Chair of SAT-7’s International Council. “I am drawn to the words of our Lord: ‘You ought to have done one without leaving the other undone,’” he continues, quoting Matthew 23:23.
Along with giving voice to refugees’ needs, SAT-7 is a platform for Christians in the MENA to advocate for the human, children’s, and minority rights that are often threatened when people are displaced. In some places, these rights are now under additional threat from those who unjustly blame members of minorities for spreading the virus. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also warned of the threat of long-term damage to refugees’ rights from pandemic-related border restrictions, reminding us that for some, the persecution or violence left behind poses an even greater existential threat than the coronavirus.
Amid these seemingly impossible conditions, SAT-7 urges supporters to lift up refugees in the MENA, and around the world, to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
- Please ask the Lord to protect El-Afnan’s family and other vulnerable refugees from infection and illness and to comfort their hearts at this frightening time.
- Pray for provision for all in the Middle East and North Africa who have now lost jobs, causing deepened suffering in areas of pre-existing economic and political turmoil.
- Pray for peace, understanding, and tolerance in countries where the rights of refugees and minorities may be further threatened following the pandemic.