The Christmas Story: Displacement and Migration

By Serisha Iyar

As Christmas approaches, Christians around the globe prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Amid the carols, trees, lights, presents and food, we give thanks for the Saviour and the resilience of His mother, Mary. While we hold steadfast in prayer for the coming new year filled with joy and hope, it is imperative that we do not ignore the surrounding reality. The battle continues in fighting for ecological justice, eradicating poverty by advancing Dignity for All, and advocating for the rights of refugees.

For many, this season serves as a reminder that Jesus too, was a refugee. This should further illustrate that the call to serve the oppressed is one that is not optional for Christians. It is commanded within the Old Testament and reiterated through the Gospel. From the Garden to the Exodus, to the Crucifix, the Christian story is one of displacement, occupation and migration.

Believers are called to not simply welcome refugees, but to love them as God does; to defend, shelter, clothe and feed them:

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Resettlement is an integral part of where churches and congregations demonstrate their support for refugees. There remain concerns for private sponsors who do the majority of refugee resettlement work in Canada. The government has a responsibility to ensure that those who can sponsor refugees are able to do so successfully and with the necessary supports.

(See also: A Half Welcome – CPJ’s report on issues Sponsorship Agreement Holders face)

Christians must also educate one another when it comes to the language we use to describe refugees. Anti-refugee rhetoric uses fear-mongering based on misinformed assumptions and discrimination to discount the humanity of the oppressed. We must be vigilant to combat discourse that vilifies refugees and actively rebuke such hatred. Christians are instructed to love and protect refugees as we would our fellow Canadians,

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

When those who have been called to liberate others have instead taken up the role of the oppressor, our purpose serving as the hands and feet of Jesus on Earth becomes tainted. We must speak out against the stained values of those who spread hate in His name. Through advocacy, we can push for our political leaders to share in this call of protection. Together, we will embrace compassion, love, and respect in developing more equitable processes based on a human rights approach. As 2018 comes to a close, we reflect on some of the efforts made to support refugees over the past year:

  • CPJ’s joint petition calling on the government to eliminate transportation loan repayment for refugees was presented in the House of Commons by MP Jenny Kwan on Dec. 10.
  • Canada, along with the majority of United Nations Member States, adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. This multilateral framework demonstrates an understanding that addressing migration must be done with international cooperation.
  • CPJ sent letters to political leaders asking them to be conscious of their wording when speaking about refugee claimants, highlighting how language plays an important role in public dialogue.
  • CPJ released Reclaiming Protection advocating for the government to rescind the CAN-US Safe Third Country Agreement.
  • Along with other refugee advocates, CPJ continues to call for the Immigration Levels Plan to raise its Government-Assisted Refugees (GAR) target to 20,000. Doing so would illustrate more equal responsibility in resettlement between the government and private sponsors.

It is imperative that we continue to use the teachings of our faith to uphold the rights of refugees. Anything less is unacceptable. Standing with the oppressed, whoever they may be, is integral to following the teachings of Jesus.

The Word is clear, in the end, there is only one choice:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25: 41-46)

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