June 17, 2021

Adventist Church Will Commemorate World Refugee Sabbath on June 19

Refugees are defined as people forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. Refugees are not statistics but people — mothers, fathers, children, and the elderly — whose lives have been turned upside down by prejudice, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.

Of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 45.7 million areinternally displaced people (IDP), 4.2 million are asylum seekers, and 26 million are refugees, according to a 2019 UNHCR report. For asylum seekers and refugees, this means they have been forced to flee their own country entirely, leaving their home behind. They often have had to escape with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs, and loved ones.

About one-third of refugees are hosted by the world’s poorest countries. Half of the world’s refugees are children, and more than half of school-aged refugees do not attend school.

Refugees are defined and protected in international law. The 1951 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees is a key legal document. It defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

ADRA’s Mission for Refugees

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) has been working for decades to help refugees in Europe and worldwide. Among the many projects implemented in Europe by ADRA Europe, the humanitarian arm of the Adventist Church is supporting an initiative in Dunkirk, in one of the largest and “worst” refugee camps in Europe. According to official statistics, at least 400 refugees are in the area of Dunkirk.

To contribute to the integration of refugees in Germany, the Adventist Church, the Advent Welfare Organization (AWW), Friedensau Adventist University, and ADRA Germany have launched the initiative Gemeinsam für Flüchtlinge (“Together for Refugees”). Projects are developed at the grassroots level of local congregations and helpers’ circles and in small associations linked to AWW.

Projects are varied and cater to different needs. 

In the city of Hamm, the Adventist community has been running a café for the integration of refugees since 2017. Up to 30 people regularly visit the café. Organizers promote the exchange between refugees and Germans, help with language acquisition, and provide support in numerous everyday situations. 

“Language is the key to integration,” ADRA Germany officials reported. “We would like to improve the language level of the refugees to such an extent that schooling and vocational training become possible. At the same time, more citizens should be integrated into refugee work to foster greater coexistence between cultures.”

In Berlin, AWW invites refugees, regardless of age, origin, or religion, to come together with local residents. Organizers offer creative play and crafts for children, and adults can chat freely while they cook and eat together. “The aim is to design joint activities and to create opportunities to apply and deepen language skills,” officials behind the initiative said. “Up to 40 participants come to the meetings, which take place once a month. And the participants themselves decide on what topic to discuss at their next meeting.”

AWW in Schweinfurt invites refugees and socially disadvantaged families to a shared lunch table once a month. The refugees from Syria and Afghanistan contribute to the international buffet for up to 50 people. For the many children, the group of volunteers offers childcare. “The lunch table promotes the exchange of different religions and nationalities. It helps to overcome prejudices and contribute to the integration of refugees to Germany,” organizers said.

ADRA Italia also provides migrants with various services to help them on their path to social integration in the Italian territory. Among them, the agency has organized Italian language courses for adults, day centers, and educational support to children so they can integrate and thrive in their host country.

ADRA is also behind an educational initiative for children in the southern city of Palermo. “School is the neutral place that most of all promotes social mobility, broadening the horizons of the child through training and growth, but it can also turn into a place of discrimination, reproducing prejudices and inequalities already existing in the wider social system,” ADRA leaders explained. “The main goal of this project is to strengthen each child’s potential and promote social integration in the community. It is also important to broaden the aspirations of the child,” they emphasized.

Activities include school support, recreational activities, moments of listening, and instances where new arrivals can get acquainted with the cultural and artistic lore of the city. Refugee children are also treated to summer camps and other activities that promote integration and friendship across cultural boundaries, leaders said.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-European Division news site.