- Catholic Relief Services: Prayer for South Sudan
- CAFOD: South Sudan Emergency Prayer
- Christian Aid: Prayer for South Sudan
- Diocese of Salisbury: A Prayer of Intercession for South Sudan
- Episcopal Church of South Sudan Northern Bahr el Ghazel Internal Province: Growing (Lent course, which includes several prayers)
- Episcopal Church (USA): Prayers of the People for South Sudan (includes prayer written by Sudanese refugee children)
- MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship): Pray for South Sudan
- Mothers Union: Prayers for South Sudan
- Solidarity with South Sudan: Prayer for Peace in This New Country
- Tearfund: Prayers for South Sudan (booklet)
- World Vision: Pray for South Sudan
The World Council of Churches has issued:
- a press release and a letter to member churches encouraging people to join in the Day of Prayer
- an article with quotes of support from the South Sudan Council of Churches
- prayer material and background information
- The Anglican Communion has issued a press release that focuses on the welcome for the Day of Prayer from world church leaders. This includes quotes from the Archishop of the Anglican Church of Congo and a prayer from Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. They’ve also issued a statement and prayer points from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
- CAFOD: Prayer for DR Congo and South Sudan
- The Canadian Religious Conference has on its website links to a helpful collection of prayers and intercessions for the Day of Prayer. It looks as if some of these may be prayers that are being used in Rome on the day itself.
- Caritas has issued a statement on the current situation in the DRC, which asks people to join the Day of Prayer and gives background material.
- CMS’s prayer bulletin for this week will focus on the DRC and South Sudan: it will be able to be found here.
- Pax Christi has a collection of materials including prayers, stories from South Sudan, background papers, videos and more.
- The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has a selection of prayers
In this week’s prayer email:
- Supporting Refugees Locally
- Short Notes:
- Grenfell Tower
- International Widows’ Day
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- South Sudan and Uganda
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Matthew 10:29
This week’s Revised Common Lectionary reading from Genesis contains the story of Hagar and Ismael. Hagar’s human story – a slave given by her mistress as a slave-wife, rejected, and banished in a way that could put her and her child at risk of death in the wilderness – is a harrowing one of powerlessness, humiliation and loss. But in the eyes of God, she and her son are precious – and God both promises to protect them and does so.
Pray that all who have suffered injustice and been cast out may know the truth of God’s care for all God’s creation. And pray that we may be agents through whom God works to protect the vulnerable and rejected.
Supporting Refugees Locally
“What can we do?”
This is the question we’re often asked with relation to support for refugees. Joanna Schüder, our Churches Refugee Networking Officer, is visiting with local groups that are supporting refugees – and is writing up some of their stories to show different approaches that individuals and groups can take.
The first of the stories – that of the Faringdon Syrian Refugee Group – is attached. We hope you find it interesting and inspiring.
Please pray for all who are already offering practical, prayer and emotional support to refugees. Pray that as a country we recognise the gifts that refugees have brought and continue to bring to our culture. And pray that as churches we work to offer support that witnesses to God’s love.
|A Prayer for Refugee Week
- Grenfell TowerWe continue to pray for healing and justice in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. This week we pray additionally for all who have been evacuated from buildings that have the same cladding as Grenfell Tower; for the emergency services workers who continue to operate under deeply painful and stressful circumstances; and for wisdom for those charged with creating and monitoring fire safety regulations.If you are looking for written prayers for Grenfell Tower, you might wish to use the Moderators of the United Reformed Church’s General Assembly’s prayer, or perhaps prayer points from people ministering in the area; the prayer from the London District Chairs of the Methodist Church (scroll down); or Bishop David Thomson’s prayer.
- International Widows’ DayIn many countries and cultures, widowhood – especially among families that are already economically poor – can bring a loss of rights. As these stories show, this in turn can create vulnerability to ill-treatment and impoverishment both for widows and for their dependent families. While it’s hard to get accurate statistics for widows, UN Women estimates that there are 285 million widows worldwide of whom 115 million live in ‘deep poverty’.For this reason, the UN has designated 23 June as International Widows’ Day. You can read more about the day and the issues that widows face here. You can read here about some widows fleeing conflict as refugees who are, with the help of others, making a life for themselves and their families. And you can read here the amazing story of how Afghan widows, despite opposition and under constant threat, have created their own safe zone, a ‘City of Women’.Please pray this weekend that widows will receive comfort and consolation when they are grieving, receive or retain the rights they need to protect themselves and their families, and have every opportunity for abundant life after loss. Pray especially for widows from conflict situations, who often face displacement and/or violence directed at them at the same time as they are dealing with the loss of their spouse.
- Democratic Republic of Congo
The Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) released this week a report on the brutal conflict between the country’s government and local militias in the DRC’s Kasai region. The report, which states that at least 3,383 people have been killed in the conflict, also speaks of mass graves, villages completely destroyed, hundreds of schools lost, and thousands of private dwellings destroyed. The UN also notes 600 cases of gender-based violence since August 2016.The conflict has displaced an estimated 1.3 million people, the majority of them internally, though some 30,000 have fled to Angola. There are also concerns that the regional conflict will make it difficult to organise national elections, which are due to be held some time this year.On Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution which “calls on the High Commissioner to appoint a team of international experts to investigate ‘alleged human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law in the Kasai regions.'” The Congolese government agreed to cooperate with the investigation. An update is to be presented in March 2018 with a final report to come in June.Please give thanks that an investigation has been mandated. Pray that civilians in the Kasai region will find safety, peace and security; that the governments and militias will cease crimes against civilians and turn towards peace; that the UN investigation will proceed peacefully, safely, and efficaciously; and that the DRC will be able to make preparations for genuinely free and fair elections.
- South Sudan and UgandaIncreased humanitarian assistance in South Sudan means that this week the country was officially declared no longer to have any areas of famine. But the severity of food insecurity in some areas has increased, and the numbers of people who remain ‘food insecure’ are the highest ever. Please give thanks for the work of humanitarian agencies and programmes; pray that assistance will reach all who are hungry; and pray for peace and stability that will enable people to grow or to access the food that they need.A delegation from the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, the ecumenical Council of Churches of South Sudan, and Ugandan church leaders visited South Sudanese refugees in Uganda last week. Members of the delegation were moved to tears by what they saw and heard – and also expressed their admiration for the Ugandan government’s work to accept and integrate refugees within their country. In response to the refugees’ call to act for peace, CAPA is inviting members of the Council of Churches of South Sudan to Lusaka next month to formulate a new church-led peace plan.While Uganda has been welcoming, it is a relatively small country hosting over 1.2 million refugees, and it has struggled to ensure that those it is hosting have access to the support they need. The ‘Refugee Solidarity Summit’ held by the UN in Kampala this week was designed to raise greater international support for refugee work within the country. The conference had a target of $2 billion in pledges; the total raised came to $358 milion. The EU, Germany and the UK led the pledges, and the UN Secretary General, pointing out that conferences never raise their targets, expressed satisfaction with the result as a start. Pray that the pledged funds are delivered in timely fashion and used effectively – and that more funding is forthcoming.
- That a US judge has temporarily halted the deportation of Iraqi immigrants, primarily Chaldean Christians, who lawyers have argued face genuine risks of persecution if returned to Iraq. Pray for wisdom for the judge and peace of mind for the Iraqi immigrants and their families.
- That Sweden has committed legally to being carbon neutral by 2045. Pray this inspires others to deepen their commitments to act on climate.
- For the many Refugee Week events in our area. Pray that they inspire more and more people to appreciate refugees’ gifts.
In this week’s email:
- World Health Day – 7 April
- Pray and Fast for the Climate – April
- Short Notes: Paraguay, South Africa, Brexit and Trade, Fair Trade at Easter
- John Madeley
Can these dry bones live? Whether these words in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings make you think about dry places in your own life or other people affected by spiritual, mental or physical dryness, it’s a question which we’ve all asked at some point. Thanks be to God for the hope of new life in this week’s readings … and in the saving work of Christ on the cross, which we are preparing to celebrate.
World Health Day – 7 April
World Health Day, held annually on the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s founding in 1948, is “a unique opportunity to mobilize action around a specific health topic of concern to people all over the world.” This year the WHO has chosen to focus on depression.
Perhaps the same impulses that mean we are often reluctant to talk about depression here in the UK mean that people don’t raise it as a genuine and pressing issue in other situations around the world. But it is no less real for that – and no less real than more obvious issues like hunger. Indeed, last October the WHO launched a year-long campaign, Depression: Let’s Talk, focusing on depression as a global issue.
In their recent publication ‘Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders – Global Health Estimates’, the WHO report that globally the total number of people with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015.
That’s more than 4% of the world’s population. And contrary to the common supposition that depression is a ‘Western’ disease, 80% of the people affected live in low- and middle-income countries, and the highest rate of depression is 5.9% among women in the African region. Depression is more prevalent in women than in men in every WHO region (and, globally, across all age groups).
Unsurprisingly, people are more likely to suffer mental health problems in emergency situations. Mental health problems can be induced both by the emergency itself (for example as a result of grief, distress, family separation, loss of livelihood or the tearing of the fabric of ordinary life) and also by circumstances arising during the humanitarian response (for example through overcrowding in camps, lack of privacy or anxiety caused by a lack of information). In addition, an emergency can exacerbate people’s pre-existing conditions.
In a World Bank blog Patricio V. Marquez calls for more to address these issues, noting “While most of those exposed to emergencies suffer some form of psychological distress, accumulated evidence shows that 15-20% of crisis-affected populations develop mild-to moderate mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). And, 3-4% develop severe mental disorders, such as psychosis or debilitating depression and anxiety, which affect their ability to function and survive.” Mental health issues affected over 10% of people visiting clinics in Nepal following the earthquake in 2015 and recent harrowing reports from Syria show the profoundly traumatic impact the conflict is having on children’s mental health. In their recent report, Invisible Wounds, Save the Children quote a teacher from the besieged town of Madaya who told them, “The children are psychologically crushed and tired. When we do activities like singing with them, they don’t respond at all. They don’t laugh like they would normally. They draw images of children being butchered in the war, or tanks, or the siege and the lack of food.” Save the Children also reference a 2015 study of Syrian refugee children in Turkey, which found that 45% of the children showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and 44% showed symptoms of depression.
As we think about and pray for people suffering debilitating depression in traumatic situations of crisis, we also want to remember and pray for people who might not be ‘clinically’ depressed, but whose mental well-being is adversely affected by crises or by chronically difficult situations – perhaps of poverty or providing long-term care. The reality of this issue was forcefully brought home to me (Elizabeth) back in 2005 when I visited a home-based care project for people living with HIV and AIDS in Zambia. At the time, antiretroviral drugs were not commonly available, and death rates were very high. I spent a morning with Anne, a nurse counsellor, visiting clients in the area she supervised. I was able to meet some of the people she helped care for: women living in extreme poverty who received nursing care, medicines, nutritional supplements and practical help with cooking and cleaning from volunteers of the home-based care (HBC) programme. The love and care shown to the clients by the HBC staff and volunteers was deeply moving and greatly appreciated by the recipients. But it came at a cost. Anne told me about the burn-out that staff and volunteers commonly experienced from the relentless cycle of “making friends with clients, seeing them struggle with insufficient food, and eventually dying… and the toll of constant funerals”.
Pray and Fast for the Climate – April
The first of each month is marked as a day to Pray and Fast for the Climate – but we need prayers for climate action throughout the month … so we’re including the Pray and Fast April prayer points with this email.
Please do use the materials in your public and private prayers throughout this month. And during the Easter season, look forward to some stories of hope from Christians who are working to care for creation, sometimes under difficult circumstances ….
Short Notes: Paraguay, South Africa, Brexit and Trade, Fair Trade at Easter
Please pray for …
Paraguay’s capital of Asunción erupted last night as protesters demonstrated against a secret Senate vote in favour of a constitutional amendment allowing the current President, Horacio Cartes, to run for re-election in 2018. Pray for a just and peaceful solution to the situation and to the wider political and economic issues facing the country.
- South Africa
South Africa also faces political instability – and, many are arguing a fundamental choice of direction (Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Oscar van Heerden, Mail & Guardian, Richard Calland, FT, ) – after President Jacob Zuma, over the objections of many in his party, fired widely-respected Treasury Minister Pravin Gordhan in a major cabinet reshuffle. Gordhan had opposed state corruption, and his ousting and replacement with a Zuma loyalist is seen as problematic both economically and politically. The Archbishop of Cape Town described this as “an assault on the poor,” adding, “Who stands to gain when corrupt elites enrich themselves on the side while doing deals worth billions of rand with state-owned enterprises? … I hope the ruling party will reflect on how they are betraying the hopes of our people and take appropriate action. Civil society too will have to consider for how long we stand by helplessly and watch the gains of our democracy destroyed.”
Pray for wisdom for all in government and all in positions of religious, economic and social leadership. Pray for moves that increase justice and transparency, reduce corruption and inequality, and provide stability and a better life for all South Africa’s people.
- Brexit and Trade
There’s much to pray for around post-Brexit trading arrangements, but today we’d commend two points. First, pray for a new campaign that asks the government to protect people from the world’s poorest countries against negative trade impacts following Brexit … and to go further by promoting development-friendly trade. Secondly, the US has just released its 2017 report on what it considers ‘foreign trade barriers’. If you read the chapter on barriers to trade with the EU, you’ll see that it includes many environmental, chemical and food standards that help to promote care for creation. If these are considered ‘trade barriers’, they will almost certainly be key negotiating targets in any bilateral deal that the US does with the UK. Pray firstly for US politicians to grow in their desire to care for creation – and secondly for UK politicians to be prepared to stand up for higher standards while negotiating new deals.
- Fair Trade at Easter
Please do remind people in your churches about Fairtrade Easter treats, especially the Real Easter Egg (available in Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and a few Co-ops, as well as online through Traidcraft and the Meaningful Chocolate Company itself). Many churches have already ordered the eggs for parishioners … but there are always a few people still looking late in the day. The Real Easter Egg is Fairtrade-certified, offers a donation to charity, and tells the story of Easter … a win/win all around.
It was with great regret that we learned this week of the death of John Madeley, a leading writer on development issues – especially around trade – and a good friend to CCOW for the past several decades.
John combined gentle kindness, a deep spirituality, and a fierce passion for justice for the poor. We give thanks for his life, and ask God to send comfort to all who mourn his death.
In this week’s prayer email:
- Fairtrade Fortnight
- Poor Church, Transfigured Church
- Malta Declaration
The Gospel in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings begins with Christ’s transfiguration – Jesus, Peter, James and John ascend a mountain, and the awestruck disciples behold their master, shining as God had when he revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, in conversation with Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets. A voice proclaims the Christ as God’s son, the Beloved. And then … they are alone again. Things are normal. And Jesus reveals that he is now on his way to death. As we enter Lent, can we take time apart, in quiet, with Christ, asking for the grace to perceive His glory … and to follow the way of the cross?
Fairtrade Fortnight begins this Monday – and already there’s been a significant announcement and the launch of a new short advertising film.
The announcement was genuinely a major one, indicating that by the end of May 2017 the Co-op would become the first UK retailer to use only Fairtrade cocoa across its entire own-brand product range. This affects over 200 products, including everything from chocolate bars to the sprinkles on its doughnuts to the battering on frozen fish. The retailer estimates that the increased usage will see a five-fold rise in its purchasing of cocoa on Fairtrade terms, and will create £450,000 a year in social premium payments for cocoa communities, in addition to the payment of the Fairtrade price.
The Co-op’s Fairtrade strategy manager, Brad Hill, noted that the switch had been made possible by the retailer’s “working hard with the Fairtrade Foundation to produce a successful ‘retail ready’ version of the Fairtrade Cocoa Sourcing Program.” The company’s own-brand chocolate will continue to bear the FAIRTRADE Mark, as it will use not only Fairtrade cocoa but also Fairtrade ingredients wherever this is possible. For other products, where the cocoa is the only Fairtrade ingredient, the assumption is that the Co-op’s labels will use the Fairtrade Cocoa Sourcing Program logo, which allows manufacturers and retailers to note the Fairtrade Cocoa element of a product without going fully Fairtrade.
This is precisely the kind of outcome that the Fairtrade Foundation was hoping for when it introduced the Cocoa Sourcing Program, and both it and the Co-op have expressed the hope that other retailers will follow suit … much as they did after the Co-op became the first major retailer to turn all its own-brand chocolate Fairtrade in 2002. With the Co-op the new development appears very positive: it would seem that their commitment to their fully Fairtrade brands remains, and the expansion of their use of Fairtrade cocoa in ancillary products benefits producers. There has been concern, however, that some manufacturers and retailers could use the Cocoa Sourcing Program to move from Fairtrade to ‘Fairtrade-lite’, using only Fairtrade cocoa where they used to use all Fairtrade ingredients, reducing the amount of other ingredients (such as sugar or vanilla) bought on the Fairtrade market, and cutting their costs in a way that undermines those who remain with the higher costs of producing fully Fairtrade goods.
Why Fairtrade matters
Why does it matter whether Fairtrade flourishes? That’s a question that the Foundation’s ‘Don’t Feed Exploitation’ campaign – and the short film that accompanies it – seeks to answer. The film, used as an advertisement, confronts ordinary people with the fact that cheap prices are often underpinned by exploitative practices, such as child labour. It’s a deliberately hard-hitting message.
And it’s a message we can’t afford to forget. Last week we asked for prayer for those detained protesting against low wages and poor working conditions in Bangladesh. This week we give thanks that, responding to pressure from organisations and businesses, the Bangladeshi Labour Ministry met with the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) and the Manufacturers’ Association BGMEA on Thursday; the Bangladeshi government released some detainees; and it pledged to release all those remaining and to call for reinstatement offers for fired workers. This is real progress – give thanks for it, and for the actions of the Ethical Trading Initiative and the major retailers (H&M, Inditex [parent of Zara], Gap, C & A, VF Corporation, Next and Tchibo) who refused to attend the government’s Dhaka Apparel Summit focused on sustainability as a protest against the government’s actions. There is no question that their actions – and by extension the actions of those who press the companies on corporate responsibility issues – had an impact.
But while we can rejoice in that, the conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh remain untenable, and much more work needs to be done there, and in countries around the world, to ensure that people are able to work in safe conditions with fair pay. Fairtrade is part of that work – and it matters.
|We’re attaching some of our Fairtrade prayers for use during Fairtrade Fortnight (more resources are here). In addition, as Fortnight begins, please pray:
One of the areas where Fairtrade has the potential to make the greatest difference is in small-scale and artisanal mining for gold. There are a very few remaining tickets for Greg Valerio’s Fairtrade Gold talk on Shrove Tuesday. Tickets close tomorrow at noon: please register here if you wish to come.
Poor Church, Transfigured Church
This Sunday is Church Action on Poverty Sunday. It falls on the day we celebrate the Transfiguration and has as its theme “Poor Church, Transfigured Church”.
In the resources for the day, Church Action on Poverty ask congregations to reflect on the challenge of what it means to be a church for – or of – the poor. How can we ask God to transform us to enable this to happen?
Our congregations locally will each have their own reflections on this – please let us know your thoughts. As a contribution to reflection, Elizabeth recently interviewed some of the regional facilitators for the Anglican Alliance, which “has a mandate to bring together development, relief and advocacy work across the [Anglican] Communion.” The facilitators’ thoughts are presented below, together with the Church Action on Poverty prayer for this Sunday.
A church of the poor
June Nderitu (Regional Facilitator for Africa)
I think it’s important to note that the church in Africa is part of the social fabric. The church is a community. For a lot of people the church is their family. So the church is a church of the poor, for the poor and with the poor. I don’t think there’s any church (at least the ones that I know) that doesn’t have some concern for the poor. I think “poor” is a very loose term because “poor” can mean anything. If you’re talking about economic poverty, where people maybe have fewer resources or lower incomes you will find a bit of segregation. Especially in urban areas some churches are not attended by poor people. That’s normal. But they will still have a concern for the poor. So they will have their programmes… they do stuff like donate money, clothes, especially when churches in the lower income areas have some trouble: churches have been known to be burnt down or families lose everything in a fire or flood or whatever.
Ministering and working with the poor is as old as the church itself. We have schools, we have health centres, skills centres. I don’t think there’s been a time when we’ve not had [them]. They might not have been programmatic (which is more modern) but there’s always been that focus. And for churches that are a bit more advanced in how they engage, they actually have full-fledged departments for development.
We are at a cross roads, where more and more people are embracing an assets-based approach. We still have pockets of dependency, where people think that the poor can only be helped, but I think that is diminishing and the assets-base is coming to the fore more and more. I think a lot of work needs to be done, especially with the church leaders because when they say it’s going to be assets-based the community will follow suit. But if the leaders themselves have this dependency thing in their heads and they don’t want to be envisioned about it then the community will remain stagnant – and they will always be saying what they don’t have. So the assets-based is becoming the centre. At CAPA (the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa) and the Alliance we say that the future of economic development is going to change drastically over the landscape of Africa because when it becomes asset-based… communities start asking what are we going to do with what we have. It may not necessarily happen everywhere, because dependency has taken very many years to cement, but there will be pockets of difference and we can already see that. I remember a lady I once visited somewhere in Kenya who lives in a very dry area, and she said that when she looked at her environment with asset-based eyes she was shocked at the number of resources around her. She was a teacher and used to rely on her teacher’s salary but now she has so many other things that give her income. And she said “having more money in my pocket means I give more in church”… which is true. Actually, all the churches that have taken CCM (Church Community Mobilisation) seriously, their giving has grown exponentially. They are able to pay their quotas [diocesan allocations] by March and they have money to spare. So they are able to build their own churches without fundraisers or relying on outside help. They become self-reliant and are able to pursue big scary, hairy dreams that otherwise they would never think of without thinking of a donor – like water projects or dairy projects.
Tagolyn Kabekabe (Regional Facilitator for the Pacific)
In the Pacific we say that people make up the churches. So the church is a church for the poor with the poor and of the poor. There is no space for people to be marginalised within our churches. So the people have been involved in all the church work and all the activities over a long period of time, and have brought it to what it is today. So in a way we can say that the church empowers the people but the people also empower the church – in the various activities that are being carried out in the different parishes and communities. And people embrace the church.
In the Pacific there’s not really so much of that looking at different layers of the community – such as the educated and those who are from rural communities. Everybody participates, wherever they are… There aren’t really groupings. People are able to worship together without difference or discrimination. There’s no such thing as that. People come together…. We don’t talk about people being poor… we don’t have this conversation. And yet they do exist within the community. The Mothers’ Union do a lot of work around this because they are the ones who talk to women and they know the situations families are confronted with. So in their organisation they attend to the needs of those who may not have [much], but seriously speaking, we do not talk about “they are poor people, we are better off” and speaking collectively as “we are from this parish, we are Anglicans” lessens that discriminatory attitude. I think that’s an important strength that we have within churches in the Pacific that we don’t discriminate.
Clifton Nedd (Regional Facilitator for the Caribbean)
My region is vast and varies from country to country or diocese to diocese but in some areas you do tend to find the old colonial model of the church being comprised predominantly of perhaps those who have a bit more money and wealth than those who lack that material wealth in some instances but more and more up and down the region the church is emerging and really finding itself as a church whose base is among the masses of the people.
The word “poor” is not really a word I like to use because oftentimes it speaks of particular metrics in terms of financial wealth or income but does not deal with what true wealth is.
Janice Proud – Relief and Programmes Manager at the Anglican Alliance, remembering when she was part of the Anglican Church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
I remember the Canadian Ambassador saying he loved coming to church because it was the only time he could be… next to a refugee as equals – whereas wherever he went he was always in a role and if he was visiting a community he was a high status person, whereas at the communion rail he was just equal before God.
Paolo Ueti, Regional Coordinator, Latin America
In my experience in my region which is Latin America … I do think there is a huge effort to be the church of the poor and with the poor. Not in my perspective a church for the poor because a church for the poor is a little bit too messianic in a bad sense: that the church will solve problems on behalf of the poor, the church has the only and unique answer and will give it to the poor – which is not what’s happening.
What I see happening is actually church leaders and ordinary faith people very engaged to do things together in order to have better sanitation, in order to have better education, in order to support each other in pain, in disasters, in order to worship together and sing together and have parties together, build church together. Of course there is lots of conflict within this – relationship is about conflict – but … I do feel, really, that faith people and faith leaders and are very committed – not only to people who participate in the church but also to everybody else – to build new relationships and new societies and [are] actually attending [to] people who do not even belong to the church, doing social service or social ministry – are reaching people the government and NGOs don’t. There are lots of good projects in rural areas and urban areas in South America and Central America and I think it’s most important to highlight that many of our leaders and many of our ministers are very connected to the most marginalised people – indigenous people who have lost their homes and lands, and women who have suffered extreme violence, children out of homes – and there are lots of organised projects in every province to attend to this kind of work in a diaconal way …
The following prayer points are based on material from Church Action on Poverty’s resource booklet. Please pray that:
- our churches, following the One who “does not forget the cry of the afflicted” (Psalm 9:12), may listen more attentively to the cry of those in poverty within and outside our congregations
- people experiencing poverty may feel welcome and valued in – and may play a full role in the life of – our churches and all churches
- the church may genuinely stand alongside the poorest and most vulnerable people in society
- our churches may allow God to transfigure and transform them so that they can live for love of God and neighbour and exemplify Christ’s teaching “Blessed are the poor ….”
You may wish to use Church Action on Poverty’s prayer for this Sunday:
You call us, God
You call us out of a harsh land and into freedom
You call us out of despair and apathy
You call us into a vision of another way of living
You call us, Jesus
You call us into hope and friendship
You call us to build your kingdom
You call us to break bread with you and with the hungry
You call us, Holy Spirit
You call us to transformation
You call us to shine into the darkness
You call us into the world to change it
Give us the strength to follow where you call.
Earlier this month EU leaders met in Malta and agreed on a controversial plan to stem the flow of refugees from North Africa to Italy along the Central Mediterranean route.
Migration at the Greek-Turkish border has significantly decreased following the EU-Turkey deal last year. However Frontex, the EU border agency, says that high numbers of people arrived in 2016 via the Central Mediterranean route, and the European Council quotes the number as 181,000. Four thousand four hundred refugees reached Italy by sea in January 2017 alone, with most departures occurring from Libya.
The Malta Declaration, adopted by the 28 EU Heads of State on 3rd February, was introduced as an attempt to “significantly reduce migratory flows, break the business model of smugglers and save lives,” (unseaworthy vessels and often dangerous conditions meant that over 5000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2016, with more deaths anticipated this spring as crossings increase with the end of the harsh winter weather). It commits EU countries to “step up cooperation with Libyan authorities,” specifically Libya’s UN-backed Presidency Council and Government of National Accord, though with a willingness to work with Libyan “regional and community authorities” and focuses on the following groups of priorities:
- Preventing people from leaving Libya by providing “training, equipment and support to the Libyan national coastguard and other relevant agencies” to intercept boats and by undertaking “further efforts to disrupt the business model of smugglers through enhanced operational action,” involving Libya, other countries on the route, international partners, Member States, and European agencies
- Attempting to provide safe accommodation for migrants and asylum seekers in Libya by “supporting where possible the development of local communities in Libya, especially in coastal areas and at Libyan land borders on the migratory routes, to improve their socio-economic situation” so that they can better act as host communities and “seeking to ensure adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants, together with the UNHCR and IOM”
- “Supporting IOM in significantly stepping up assisted voluntary return activities”
- Discouraging people from attempting to travel through or from Libya by “enhancing information campaigns and outreach addressed at migrants in Libya and countries of origin and transit … particularly to counter the smugglers’ business model” and by helping Libya to strengthen its land borders.
- Trying to ensure that increased security in Libya doesn’t simply lead to another diversion of migration routes, by “keeping track of alternative routes and possible diversion of smugglers’ activities, through cooperative efforts with Libya’s neighbours and the countries under the Partnership Framework, with the support of Member States and all relevant EU agencies and by making available all necessary surveillance instruments” and by “ deepening dialogue and cooperation on migration with all countries neighbouring Libya, including better operational cooperation with Member States and the European Border and Coast Guard on preventing departures and managing returns.”
The declaration also supported Italy’s bilateral agreement with the UN-backed Libyan government to return migrants to Libya for repatriation from there.
This idea is similar to the EU deal with Turkey – which itself represents, in effect, a controversial outsourcing of EU hosting of asylum seekers – but has the further complicating factor that Libya does not have the same level of relative political or economic stability that Turkey does. Since the fall of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has lacked an effective central government: neither the UN-backed government with which the EU declares its intention to work nor the other factions controlling different areas would currently appear to have the capacity to deliver safe reception facilities for migrants and asylum seekers as Europe has proposed. Moreover, given that direct in-country support is difficult to realise given the security situation, there is no certainty that they will be able to do so in the foreseeable future.
Libya is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no domestic law or procedure for considering asylum claims. The evidence of brutality against migrants in Libya is overwhelming, Human Rights Watch said. A damning December 2016 report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN mission in Libya documented widespread abuses: it opens “The situation of migrants in Libya is a human rights crisis. The breakdown in the justice system has led to a state of impunity, in which armed groups, criminal gangs, smugglers and traffickers control the flow of migrants through the country. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has also received credible information that some members of State institutions and some local officials have participated in the smuggling and trafficking process. Many [migrants and asylum seekers] … are subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, other ill-treatment,unlawful killings, sexual exploitation, and a host of other human rights abuses. Migrants are also exploited as forced labour and suffer extortion by smugglers, traffickers, as well as members of State institutions. Women migrants are the most exposed, amidst numerous and consistent reports of rape and other sexual violence.” The EU’s own scoping report reached similar conclusions.
Moreover, relying on UNHCR and IOM to ensure adequate monitoring will be challenging until they can return to Libya from Tunisia, where they mainly remain due to security constraints. In a joint statement, UNHCR and IOM made it clear that they do not support Libya’s use of automatic detention for migrants, and noted that “security constraints continue to hinder our ability to deliver life-saving assistance, provide basic services to the most vulnerable and find solutions through resettlement, assisted voluntary return or self-reliance”
Working with Libya to turn back boats before these issues have been addressed may well, therefore, while possibly preventing deaths at sea be putting people’s lives at risk on land. Twelve Libyan NGOs recently criticised the agreement, saying that it represented a fundamental “immoral and inhumane attitude” towards migrants and expressed concern over the “inhumane conditions” faced by migrants in detention centres in Libya. Outgoing UN special envoy to Libya Martin Kobler told the UN Security Council that repatriation via Libya could not work because of the humanitarian conditions in the country.
The international principle of non-refoulement prevents people being sent back to countries where there is a threat to their life or freedom; and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights has been interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights “as providing an effective means of protection against all forms of return to places where there is a risk that an individual would be subjected to torture, or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
A significant coalition of agencies working with refugees, including both secular organisations such as Amnesty International and such Christian agencies as Caritas Europa, the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and the ACT Alliance (a global coalition of 143 churches and church-related agencies) has stated: “European governments cannot themselves return people to Libya without breaching the international principle of non-refoulement – as people returned would be at risk of being exposed to serious human rights violations. Thus we see that the new EU policies, which aim to enhance the Libyan authorities’ ability to intercept refugees and migrants at sea and pull them back to Libya, represent a clear attempt to circumvent the EU’s international obligations, in plain disregard of the harsh consequences thousands of men, women and children would be exposed to. “
The agencies asked the European Council to:
- Facilitate safe mobility by opening and strengthening safe and regular channels to Europe for refugees and migrants including through resettlement, humanitarian admission and humanitarian visas, family reunification, worker mobility across skill levels and student visas. Safeguard the right to seek asylum under all circumstances.
- Review the plans set out by the Malta Summit to ensure that safeguards for human rights and respect for international law are in place; ensure that the human rights of those on the move are respected, regardless of their status, as set out in the Valletta Action Plan.
- Guarantee that EU border management policies protect people and their rights, not aim to stop migratory movements. Fundamental freedoms must be upheld, and the security needs of different groups, including the most vulnerable, must be assessed.
- Take evidence of human rights abuses in Libya seriously and stop any actions that may lead people to be pulled back towards the Libyan coast. The current approach risks violating people’s fundamental rights and the rule of law, including the principle of non-refoulement.
- Thoroughly assess the human rights situation of migrants and the risks they face in Libya, and undertake objective and genuine impact assessment of the actions funded and coordinated by the EU and support international agencies in ensuring that Libya fulfils its duty to uphold human rights.
- Demand specific measures to identify and protect vulnerable groups including children, migrants and refugees with disabilities, victims of torture or trafficking and those at risk of discrimination.
In this week’s prayer email:
- South Sudan
- Averting Famine
- Short Notes: Bangladesh Workers’ Rights, Iraq and Pakistan
There are challenging words in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings. They remind us that the call to holiness and love of neighbour is nothing abstract or easy: it entails everything from ensuring that all – including the “poor and the alien” – have what they need … to taking responsibility for helping each other live rightly … to loving enemies and praying for those who persecute us. As we ponder the readings, it’s good to let their challenge sink in … and to ask for grace to follow what they command.
Please continue to pray for people affected by the disastrous situation in South Sudan.
In December, the UN warned the country was on the brink of genocide. Atrocities continue to be perpetrated, and this week a general of the government Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka (a man who is respected by the international community) resigned saying, “President Kiir and his Dinka leadership clique have tactically and systematically transformed the SPLA into a partisan and tribal army. Terrorising their opponents, real or perceived, has become a preoccupation of the government.” The terrifying and costly impacts of the chaotic situation on local people trying to bring health care and relief to their region can be read here.
South Sudan’s economy is in ruins, with even military families – who would normally be amongst the more privileged – facing extreme hardship. Inflation rose to 830 percent at the end of last year and prices of basic foodstuffs are beyond the reach of most.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that nearly 7.5 million people in South Sudan are in need of humanitarian assistance and say that hunger and malnutrition have reached historic levels. They expect as many as 5 million people to be severely food insecure this year, adding, “more than one million children under age 5 are estimated to be acutely malnourished, including more than 273,600 who are severely malnourished”.
Over 1.5 million people have fled South Sudan since civil war broke out in December 2013, making this the third largest refugee crisis in the world after Syria and Afghanistan. Some 698,000 refugees are being hosted in Uganda – the number tripling over the course of 6 months. More refugees entered Uganda last year than crossed the Mediterranean (PRI, UNHCR figures). The UN reported that an average of over 3,300 people a day – more than 46,500 in total – entered during the two weeks between the 25th of January and the 7th of February. This represents more than the total number of asylum seekers being supported by the UK government at the year ending September 2016. And officials reported even greater numbers of people – 4,000 a day – entering in the week prior to February 16th.
Uganda has been lauded internationally for its openness to refugees. In addition to keeping its borders open, it has an official policy of allowing refugees freedom to travel and work, and to access education and health services. It also operates a ‘self-sufficiency policy’ offering refugees small plots of land on which to build houses and grow their own food, as well as basic resources to help with doing so – something which has been shown to benefit surrounding communities as well.
Uganda is endeavouring to do all this on a large scale very rapidly: the Bidibidi refugee camp has received over 270,000 refugees from South Sudan and is now at full capacity, having become one of the world’s largest refugee camps in just 6 months. A piece from the Norwegian Refugee Council, published also in The Guardian, illustrates some positive stories of refugees and hosts in and around it. Amongst the refugees featured is 17-year-old Mary Kiden, who fled to Uganda from South Sudan last October with her brother and sisters. She expresses a note of hope: “It is good to be in Uganda. They allocated us a piece of land, we have free access to medical services and we feel safe. People were killed in South Sudan. It made me afraid. Here we no longer need to listen to the sound of the guns.” Never Rukia, a Ugandan who is featured, says, “Wars are no good for the civilians. I am glad Uganda can give them land and provide security. It has some benefits for us as well. There are more goods being sold at the market now. And there are clean water sources available to us, as well as the refugees. I think we should stay together in harmony and share the available resources”.
The volume of refugees entering Uganda has, however, caused stresses in transit sites, refugee camps, and within the host communities. At a transit site in the Moyo district, refugees interviewed by Radio Miraya reported “dire conditions, mentioning a lack of basic necessities ranging from food, water and shelter to toilets and medicines.” Bidibidi has had issues with provision of water, power and food. With respect to food, last August a lack of funding forced the World Food Programme, UNHCR and the government of Uganda to halve the rations of South Sudanese refugees who had been in Uganda for more than a year – and as land becomes more scarce, the plots being given to some newer refugees to cultivate are widely recognised as not capable of supporting their needs. There are also tensions and flare-ups within the camp between refugees from different ethnic groups as the head of the camp, Robert Baryamwesiga, explains: “What is happening over in South Sudan affects the relationships of refugees in the settlement a great deal.”
As another snapshot, in this piece from Medecins sans Frontières, Rose and Richard share their stories of the violence that drove them to flee South Sudan and their experiences in the Bidibidi camp. They describe the relief they have found in Uganda, both in the finding a place of safety and in receiving basic, if limited, provisions. But Richard, who now works as a translator for MSF, also describes the difficulties faced by people in the camp: “Most of our patients here have malaria. People are sleeping outside or have nowhere to hang the mosquito nets that have been distributed. There is also a lot of diarrhoea. People are neglecting the basics, cutting back on food and water, because they’re in a desperate situation and then they fall ill.” He also recalls a frightening altercation with some members of the local community in a dispute over land.
The Government of Uganda has noted that it cannot continue to absorb refugees well at current levels without greater assistance from the international community.
- For peace in South Sudan – may God turn the hearts of the violent towards peace, and bring together the right people to work towards a new, just future
- For healing for those who have suffered and/or are suffering as a result of the conflict.
- In thanksgiving for all people and countries which are generous in welcoming refugees. Pray that they may receive the assistance that is necessary to enable them to continue their humanitarian efforts.
South Sudan is one of four countries on the brink of famine. Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia are also at risk. Gareth Owen, humanitarian director of Save the Children, said: “The potential this year is we may have four famines looming, which is a truly scary thought and will stretch our resources. We are at a critical moment.” But the danger extends even more widely, with Owen adding, “Right now, in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, there are 12 million people affected [by food insecurity]. These three countries together look as bad as Somalia in 2011. If you add South Sudan on top of that, with that conflict, and Nigeria, you have millions more. And Yemen has 18 million people. That’s creating this real concern that we are facing a major crisis that we have not seen before.”
In Yemen, the UN estimates that “an alarming 18.8 million people – more than two thirds of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance. An estimated 10.3 million people are acutely affected and need some form of immediate humanitarian assistance to save and sustain their lives including food, health and medical services, clean water & sanitation and protection. Nearly 3.3 million people – including 2.1 million children – are acutely malnourished while 2 million people remain internally displaced”. Launching an appeal on February 8th to raise US$2.1 billion in assistance for Yemen, Stephen O’Brien, from the UN’s OCHA, said, “Two years of war have devastated Yemen and millions of children, women and men desperately need our help. Without international support, they may face the threat of famine in the course of 2017 and I urge donors to sustain and increase their support to our collective response.”
The FAO report that immediate intervention is needed to assist over 5 million people facing food insecurity in north-east Nigeria. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network says evidence indicates there has already been famine in some inaccessible parts of Borno State and that “There is an elevated likelihood that famine is ongoing and will continue in the inaccessible areas of Borno State”. In its analysis of the situation the FAO say, “The Boko Haram insurgency has led to massive displacements and high levels of food insecurity in the area. Already poor and vulnerable host communities have absorbed large numbers of people fleeing violence, placing considerable pressure on fragile agricultural and pastoral livelihoods, while the insecurity has severely disrupted markets and food availability”.
Oxfam has an appeal for the wider West Africa region, saying “A desperate humanitarian crisis is growing in parts of West Africa as a result of the ongoing conflict with Boko Haram and the military operations to counter them. The violence has spread from north-east Nigeria into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon forcing 2.6 million people to flee their homes and leaving over 11 million people in need of emergency aid. Unable to grow or buy food, or get to humanitarian aid, millions are going hungry. Thousands of people are estimated to have died already”.
Somalia is also at risk of famine. The short rainy season at the end of last year was poor and there is concern that if the long rainy season, due to start in April, fails, the possibility of famine will return. Already more than 6 million people – over half the population of Somalia – are in need of assistance (according to the FAO and Famine Early Warning Systems Network), with 3 million of these projected to be “in crisis” or “in emergency” between now and June (up from 1.1 million six months ago).
The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq has warned, “we need to rapidly step up the humanitarian response to effectively respond to the extensive needs and avert a famine. If we do not scale up the drought response immediately, it will cost lives, further destroy livelihoods, and could undermine the pursuit of key State-building and peacebuilding initiatives. A drought – even one this severe – does not automatically have to mean catastrophe if we can respond early enough with timely support from the international community.”
- For local and international organizations seeking to bring relief and aid in the face of multiple, acute crises and the resultant strain on resources and staff.
- That governments, businesses and people around the world will respond to the extraordinary humanitarian needs rapidly and with generosity.
- that in all the areas involved, God will bring an end to their conflicts, turn the hearts of the violent towards peace, and satisfy the needs of those who have suffered and are suffering because of the violence.
Short Notes: Bangladesh Workers’ Rights, Iraq and Pakistan
- “You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.”Please pray for the safety, well-being – and release – of Bangladeshi labour leaders and garment workers who have been imprisoned after workers struck for a rise in the minimum wage. The minimum monthly wage for people working a 48-hour week (8 hours a day, 6 days a week) in Bangladesh is about $67, a little under £54: a worker on this wage is below the World Bank poverty level. In theory, overtime could give more (many labourers work far more hours) – but overtime abuses are rife, and pay can be docked for any number of causes, from making an error on a piece of work to not meeting a target (which could be 120 to 150 pieces of work an hour for 14 hours). The Asia Floor Wage Alliance has calculated that a living wage in Bangladesh would be $367 (£296) a month. Pray that the workers’ actions will lead to fairer pay and conditions for labourers in Bangladesh and more generally throughout the world. Pray that companies with supply chains in Bangladesh will genuinely press for action in this area.
- Pray for those who were injured or who mourn the dead in the recent bombing of a street of car dealerships and garages frequented by Shia Muslims in Baghdad, which killed almost 60 people and injured 66. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. Pray, too, for the residents of Western Mosul, which the Iraqi Government is hoping to retake from the Islamic State: there are reports that hundreds of thousands of civilians are suffering from hunger and lack of access to water, and are generally ‘under extreme duress’. Pray for those injured or left mourning by an attack, also claimed by the Islamic State, on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan. Pray for wisdom for all responding to the attacks and grant that they may act with courage and discernment, and avoid the temptation to mirror the behaviours they fight.
Featured Image: David Lemi, a refugee from South Sudan, photographed near his new home in Bidi Bidi refugee camp, Uganda. Image from Trocaire on Flickr: http://bit.ly/2leoaVZ. Reproduced with thanks via Creative Commons License.