Today, there are around 40 million people in the world who are internally displaced. Internally displaced people have been uprooted from their homes and communities but remain in their countries of origin. Some are displaced by wars and violence, some by drought and famine, some by natural disasters. Whatever the reason for their displacement, their plight is often overlooked and ignored. We often focus our attention solely on those who have left their countries as refugees but internally displaced people represent two-thirds of people who have had to leave their homes. The Christian Aid campaign Uprooted and Overlooked draws attention to this problem and aims to ensure that any UN agreement on migrants and refugees includes provision for the internally displaced as well.
On Wednesday, we welcomed Christian Aid to the Priory to launch an exhibition which will be housed here for the duration of the Abergavenny Food Festival. We were incredibly privileged to hear from two new residents of Abergavenny who have direct personal experience of being displaced. Michael told us of the economic and political problems which caused his brother to leave Eritrea and of his own path to Abergavenny. He also spoke movingly of visiting his mother, who now resides in Sudan, after two years apart. Raasha told us of her flight from Syria and of the deep pain caused by separation from loved ones (if you’d like to support her, she will be selling baked goods on the lawn on the St Mary’s vicarage this Saturday).
Finally, we heard from Mari McNeill, head of Christian Aid Wales, who put the scale of the issue into perspective for us. As she noted, 40 million is a mind-boggling number. Mari then pointed out that if all the displaced people were lined up outside the door of St Mary’s Priory and she were to introduce us to all of them, spending a minute each, it would take us 76 years to finish! And that’s assuming we never take a break! She also encouraged us to sign a petition to insist that the UK government pressure the UN to include internally displaced people in any detail concerning the current migrant and refugee crisis. We encourage you to do the same!
Please come down and check out the exhibition if you are able to. It consists of a series of stories of individual displaced people from Nigeria, Uganda, and Iraq. You will read, for instance, about Ayuba Azagwu who had to flee from Boko Haram. He now lives in a nine-room house in Maiduguri, sheltering up to 100 people who have also fled Boko Haram. The exhibition also asks a series of questions, which you may like to find somewhere in the Priory (or wherever you are) to sit quietly and consider:
- Imagine if war came to your town — how would you decide whether to stay or to leave?
- Imagine if you were forced to flee your home today. You must travel to an unfamiliar location. How safe would you feel?
- Imagine there was no water in your home — or the shops. How would you survive?
It should be natural for Christians to be sensitive to the plight of displaced people. As Fr Mark noted, it was apt for us to be hearing about displaced people in front of the Jesse window in the St Joseph Chapel. The Jesse window contains depictions of many figures in Christian (and indeed Jewish history) who were displaced in one way or another, not least Jesus and Mary!
Thank you very much to Mari and all who have been involved in putting together the exhibition. It is a real privilege to be able to host it. We are also deeply grateful to Michael and Raasha for sharing their experiences with us. I’m sure everyone who was there will remember the night for a long time.