In African refugee camps, heavy rains wash away homes, people are attacked by resentful local residents, and health issues are a constant concern. As places of refuge go, the camps can be pretty grim.
Eight Canadian CRC members saw firsthand the perils and problems of refugee life this spring. Rose Dekker, Moses Moini, Ed and Linda Kraay, Hans and Joanne Kater, Jon Pelster, and Sonya VanderVeen Feddema participated in the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s (CRWRC) two-week Refugee Learning Tour.
The tour included visits to Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya and the Kyangwali refugee settlement in Uganda, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
To learn more about the challenges governments and humanitarian organizations face, group members met with officials from the Kenyan and Ugandan governments, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi.
Dekker, who works as refugee sponsorship coordinator in the CRC’s Canadian office in Burlington, Ontario, said visiting the refugee camps “touched me to the core.”
“Each individual refugee is a child of God, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have been in camps for more than a decade,” she said. “Children are born and raised in camps.”
The UNHCR suggests three solutions. The first is repatriation to their country of nationality, but most refugees come from countries where wars continue and human rights abuses remain unresolved.
The second is local integration, but few of the nations to which refugees flee allow them to become residents.
The third solution is resettlement to another country, but less than one percent of the world’s refugees receive the sponsorship needed to come to the United States or Canada or other countries that will accept them.
“How are we as Christians to show the generous mercy of Christ when there is no viable solution?” Dekker asks. “How can we respond to a problem of this magnitude?”
Pelster, a member of Maranatha CRC in Edmonton, Alberta, said he learned how complex the issues relating to refugees are and how they are part of the larger issue of global justice and peace.
“Seeing the camps and talking with the people directly involved with the issues helped to put a human face on a problem that easily becomes abstract,” he said.
A highlight of the tour was a visit in Kakuma refugee camp with Makungisa Clement Nyange and his family. First Christian Reformed Church in Sarnia, Ontario, in partnership with CRWRC, is in the process of sponsoring Clement and his family and bringing them to Canada.
When Dekker learned that Clement and his family lived in the Kakuma camp, she and others prayed that a visit could be arranged. With jubilation and thanksgiving, Clement and his extended family met with tour members outside the family’s mud hut.
After sharing a fervent prayer of thanks and a simple meal, Clement related how difficult life in a camp can be. Later, Clement showed the Canadians the sturdy cement church where people from various tribes and nations in the camp meet each Sunday to worship and sing praises to God.
The tour participants, all of whom are involved in varying aspects of refugee resettlement work, plan to share insights they gained from the trip with their church communities, refugee committees, and diaconates.
For information on refugee resettlement, visit www.crcna.org/pages/crwrc_refugee.cfm or call Rose Dekker at 800-730-3490. In the U.S., call PARA at 616-224-7540 or 800-BETHANY.