A World Where Everyone Belongs

“Since refugees are a global problem, the search for solutions must also be global.”—Gil Loescher, professor of international relations.

THE young couple left under the cover of night. Concerned about their safety, the husband wasted no time, even though they had a young child. He had heard that the country’s ruthless dictator was planning a murderous attack on the town. After an arduous journey of over a hundred miles, the family finally crossed the border to safety.

This humble family later became known the world over. The name of the child was Jesus, and his parents were Mary and Joseph. These refugees did not leave their land in order to search for material wealth. Rather, theirs was a life-threatening situation. Why, their child was the target of the attack!

Like many other refugees, Joseph and his family eventually returned to their homeland when the political situation improved. But their timely flight undoubtedly helped save the life of their young child. (Matthew 2:13-16) Egypt, their host country, had a history of accepting both political and economic refugees. Many centuries earlier, Jesus’ forefathers had found refuge in Egypt when a famine desolated the land of Canaan.—Genesis 45:9-11.

Safe but Not Satisfied

Scriptural as well as modern-day examples testify that flight to another country can mean the difference between life and death. Nevertheless, it is still a traumatic experience for any family to abandon their home. Humble though it may be, it likely represents years of investment in time and money. And it may also be a family inheritance that ties them to their culture and their land. Furthermore, refugees can take few, if any, belongings with them. Thus, refugees are invariably plunged into poverty, irrespective of their former circumstances.

The initial feeling of relief on reaching safety can quickly evaporate if the future seems to offer no more than life in a refugee camp. And the longer the refugee condition lasts, the more oppressive it becomes, especially if there is no integration with the local people. Refugees, like everyone else, want to have permanent roots somewhere. A refugee camp is hardly an ideal place to raise a family. Will the time eventually come when everyone will have a place to call home?

Is Repatriation the Answer?

During the 1990’s, about nine million uprooted people finally returned to their homes. For some of these people, it was a joyful occasion, and they eagerly set about reconstructing their lives. But for others, the mood was one of resignation. They returned merely because their situation had become unbearable in their country of asylum. The problems they experienced in exile were so acute that they decided they would be better off back home, despite the insecurity that they would undoubtedly face.

Even in the best of circumstances, repatriation involves hardships because it means being totally uprooted for a second time. “Each  relocation is accompanied with a loss of the means of livelihood, such as land, jobs, homes and livestock,” explains The State of the World’s Refugees 1997-98. “And each relocation marks the start of a tough restoration process.” One study of repatriated refugees in central Africa reported that “for the refugees who had received assistance in exile, the return could be more difficult than the experience of exile itself.”

Even more distressing, however, is the situation of millions of refugees who are forced to return to their home country against their will. What conditions await them? “Returnees may have to survive in a situation where the rule of law hardly exists, where banditry and violent crime are rife, where demobilized soldiers prey on the civilian population and where light weapons are available to most of the population,” stated a United Nations report. Evidently, such hostile environments do not satisfy even the basic security needs of these uprooted people.

Building a World Where Everyone Is Secure

Forced or reluctant repatriations will never solve refugee problems if the underlying causes are not addressed. Mrs. Sadako Ogata, former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stated in 1999: “The events of this decade—and, indeed, those of the past year—indicate very clearly that refugee issues cannot be discussed without reference to security.”

And an acute lack of security afflicts millions of people around the globe. Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, explains: “In some parts of the world, states have collapsed as a result of internal and communal conflicts, depriving their citizens of any effective protection. Elsewhere, human security has been jeopardized by governments which refuse to act in the common interest, which persecute their opponents and punish innocent members of minority groups.”

Wars, persecution, and ethnic violence—the fundamental causes of insecurity that Kofi Annan described—usually have their roots in hatred, prejudice, and injustice. These evils will not be uprooted easily. Does that mean that the refugee problem will inevitably get worse?

If matters were left in human hands, that would undoubtedly be the outcome. But in the Bible, God promises that “he is making wars to cease to the extremity of the earth.” (Psalm 46:9) Through his prophet Isaiah, he likewise describes a time when people “will certainly build houses and have occupancy; and they will certainly plant vineyards and eat their fruitage. . . . They will not toil for nothing, nor will they bring to birth for disturbance; because they are the offspring made up of the blessed ones of Jehovah, and their descendants  with them.” (Isaiah 65:21-23) Such conditions would indeed eliminate the refugee problem. Are they achievable?

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed,” states the preamble of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Our Creator well knows that a change of thinking is needed. The same prophet explains why everyone on earth will one day dwell in security: “They will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”—Isaiah 11:9.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have already discovered that the knowledge of Jehovah can overcome prejudice and hatred. In their international preaching work, they seek to promote Christian values that instill love instead of hatred, even in war-torn countries. They also offer whatever help they reasonably can to refugees.

On the other hand, they realize that the complete solution to the refugee problem lies with God’s appointed King, Jesus Christ. He certainly understands how easily hatred and violence can destroy people’s lives. The Bible assures us that he will judge the lowly ones with righteousness. (Isaiah 11:1-5) Under his heavenly rule, the will of God will be done on the earth, as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9, 10) When that day dawns, nobody will ever need to become a refugee. And everyone will have a place to call home.

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What Is Needed to Solve the Refugee Problem?

“Meeting the needs of the world’s displaced people—both refugees and the internally displaced—is much more complex than simply providing short-term security and assistance. It is about addressing the persecution, violence and conflict which bring about displacement in the first place. It is about recognizing the human rights of all men, women and children to enjoy peace, security and dignity without having to flee their homes.”—The State of the World’s Refugees 2000.

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What Solution Does God’s Kingdom Provide?

“Everywhere in the land righteousness and justice will be done. Because everyone will do what is right, there will be peace and security for ever. God’s people will be free from worries, and their homes peaceful and safe.”—Isaiah 32:16-18, Today’s English Version.