BY NEFER BASTULI
If you walk the perimeter of East Campus, you will notice a two-foot wall encasing the university. Many view this wall as symbolically delineating two different worlds: Duke vs Durham, privilege vs disadvantage, us vs them…
Take a few steps off East Campus and you will notice the stark contrast between the chiseled architecture and perfectly trimmed lawns of Duke and the cardboard signs of those dealing with homelessness alongside the Durham public schools fighting for better pay and resources.
Although the complexities and differences between Duke University and the surrounding Durham area are not completely dichotomous and cannot simply be merely summed up by two opposing adjectives, I believe that the wall used to differentiate the “us” from the “other” here at Duke, is a microcosm of both the figurative and literal U.S. wall used to maintain this divide and hostility toward the “stranger.”
This hostility and fear toward those we may consider an “other” fuel anti-refugee sentiments in a time of great increase in displaced people in search of protection in countries such as the U.S.
According to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, a refugee is a person who has been “persecuted or [felt] fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”
Although refugees have been seeking refuge in the U.S. for hundreds of years, in 1980, the U.S. Refugee Act was established and called for protection and humanitarian assistance for displaced people entering the U.S. Since then, there have been increasing waves of refugees entering the U.S. in direct correlation with rising global crises such as genocides and natural disasters forcing inhabitants to flee their native homes. According to data from Pew Research, in 2016, about 50% of the refugees entering the U.S., or 51,184 people, came from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Burma (Myanmar) and Iraq alone due to internal conflicts. But from 2016 to 2018, new U.S. policies have capped the amount of refugees allowed to enter the U.S. to 45,000, almost less than half of those admitted in 2017.
Hate crimes, hate speech, and xenophobia are not issues exclusive to the U.S. or North Carolina. Rather, they span the globe and threaten the lives and well-being of all of those targeted. Hate crimes are fueled by hate speech, and unchecked discrimination within ourselves, on social media, and from political and public figures, all of which have coerced and instigated violent actions such as the burning of refugee homes in Germany, and the overall 17% increase in U.S. based hate crimes in 2016, many of which have targeted individuals and families seeking refuge. Rhetoric protecting and supporting incoming refugees, alongside action plans to provide care is important in the triangle area, because a majority of refugees who enter North Carolina are housed in the cities of Durham, Chapel-Hill, Raleigh, and Charlotte.
With discourse surrounding refugee populations reflecting a growing anti-refugee sentiment, the church must stand unwavering in our responsibility to protect and love vulnerable populations. Those who are forced to flee persecution and rebuild their lives in an unknown place must be able to find a safe place in the arms of the body of Christ.
So what are practical actions we can take?
Well first, we must practice being socially aware and responsible by educating ourselves and our peers on matters that affect groups we may not identify with. There are a plethora of resources that can offer insight and serve as a checkpoint to our biases such as internet searches, text resources in libraries, courses at Duke, and campus talks from advocate groups; most importantly, we must be open to listen and ask questions with the understanding that these are not just recurring topics or statistics, but rather lives that have been compromised and devalued in the face of hate.
With this knowledge, we must be cognizant of our own thoughts and words surrounding refugee populations and other social injustices, and be willing to speak up online and offline when we recognize any form of hateful speech or action. This cognizance grows as we continually dialogue with advocates and people who may identify with a marginalized group.
Lastly, we can practice humility and service by partnering with advocate groups or organizations on and off campus who support and care for refugee populations in the area. Partnering can range from volunteering as an ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor once a week at Duke, to spending quality time with a refugee family in Durham through the Church World Service.
These actions should come from a place of humility and a genuine care for oppressed peoples that reflect the heart of God. If we look in the Bible, we see that God has a heart for those who face injustice and are forced to flee their homes. In Exodus 22, we find a list of laws regarding social justice, and in verse 21, we see specific implications that can be applied to the refugee such as, “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (ESV). In Leviticus 19:33-34, God commands the Israelites to care for the “sojourner,” saying, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (ESV). God not only commands a response of love and fair treatment for the sojourner, He then takes it deeper and goes on to identify with those who are found in a new land, saying, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Leviticus 25:23, ESV). Throughout scripture we see a pattern of love, understanding, and identification with those who are oppressed. The story of the Israelites in Exodus and Leviticus reveals over and over that God is the ultimate protector of those who are oppressed.
A particularly striking story in Matthew 2 tells of fearful new parents who were forced to flee their country to save their precious baby boy’s life. This baby boy began his life as a refugee fleeing his home of Bethlehem for a chance at life in Egypt after an evil King ordered the death of all male children under the age of two. As you may know, this baby boy’s name was Jesus.
We often forget that our own Lord and Savior began his earthly life as a refugee.
Although millions still perish in crises that engender the need for refuge and though we may begin to question where God is in all of this, we are reminded that not only did Christ take our sorrows upon Himself, but He chose to walk a thousand miles in the shoes of our fear, desperate cries, and uncertainty.
Christ’s embodiment of our struggle, specifically the struggle of the refugee, should be a reminder that His mercy and love extend to all corners of the earth and that there is no wall or border that can limit the reach of His love. Though oppression and discrimination towards those we so wrongly deem as “other” are rampant, we must remember His promise in Philippians 3:20, that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV). Though we divide ourselves on Earth through borders, nationalities, race, ethnicities, and other distinctions, our citizenship as children of God transcends all of these labels.
As the church, we must welcome displaced and hurting people, just as Christ was and did. There is no “other,” for at the root we are all the same: lost, broken people in need of a savior.
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