The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, surpassing 65.5 million refugees worldwide - an unprecedented number. While the needs of Syrian refugees are widely publicized and receiving some desperately-needed support from organizations including Medical Teams International, the expanding crisis in South Sudan is underreported and underfunded. And while the news headlines in the U.S. are mainly focused on the small number of refugees coming into our country, the global problem is 1,300 times as great with “no room in the inn” and a price tag no one wants to pay.
Last month, I toured remote districts in Uganda hosting almost a million refugees from six nations. Quietly and without fanfare or violence, an average of 3,500 refugees arrive at the Ugandan transit sites from South Sudan every day, and our Medical Teams International staff see every single one.Refugees – mostly women and children because many men stay behind to defend land or fight in the civil war – line up to wait for health screenings so they can receive a rudimentary supplies kit, be bussed to a barren plot of land to build a makeshift house, and begin their lives of waiting and wondering, hoping their homelands become safe enough to return, not knowing if or when that day may come.
Today, just one month later, there are more than 1.5 million refugees who have fled South Sudan. This is the largest refugee crisis in Africa and the third largest in the world, after Syria and Afghanistan. One hundred thousand South Sudanese are on the brink of starving with famine now declared. Another five million need immediate food assistance. And there are indicators that things could get much worse as genocide in South Sudan is increasingly possible.
One young South Sudanese man haunts my memory. He traveled thousands of miles with his brother to our health center after he was shot. His thin body and hollow cheeks told a grim story of the pain he experienced. Our staff nurses and doctors treated his gunshot wound—ensuring his survival even as he faces an uncertain future in Uganda.
The truth is, the United States has taken in ONLY 0.001% of the worldwide refugee population, but the majority of refugees, like this young man, wait for peace to return home with no hope of emigrating anywhere. Prosperity is simply a fantasy for the refugees who wait hoping for just the basics: shelter, primary healthcare, food rations, and perhaps education so that this next generation of children might be able to create a viable future that their homelands desperately need.
More people than ever before are suffering as the result of both natural and human-made disasters. When political actors fail to fix a broken world, it’s incumbent upon people who are compassionate to restore physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness. Countries like Uganda, Lebanon and Turkey are currently shouldering the brunt of the refugee crisis sweeping the globe – they are hosting millions – but we can also do our part to help change the future for refugees right where they are now.
Overloaded yet uncomplaining staff from Medical Teams International, the United Nations refugee agency, the World Food Programme, and many other partners are working diligently to receive, process, and care for millions of refugees worldwide. The temporary health centers are teeming with people, and the pediatric wards are full of little ones. The bulk of the world’s refugees need help and want nothing more than to return to a safe home. While we can’t open our doors to these far off neighbors, we can be compelled by compassion and called to action to consider our role in restoring wholeness in a broken world – there is no time to waste and there is no better time.
-Martha Holley Newsome
Here are some tangible ways you can make a difference right now:
- Support UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.
- Support private organizations like Medical Teams International who are on the front lines in responding to refugees who flee their countries longing for a safe place to land. Donate now.
- Support government funding for refugees as a way to stabilize marginalized populations and prevent terrorism from taking root.
- Do your part to humanize the issue of refugees, remembering that they are ordinary people just like you and me who love their families desperately and want to live in peace.
- Call your congressperson to tell them you support ongoing state department funding for refugee families around the world.