In our latest blog Justice and Peace Commissioner Grace Buckley reflects on the valuable contribution migrants and refugees can make to world peace and understanding, as she discovered on her journey into the world of online education.
Life is full of surprises, large and small, good and bad, and I sometimes feel that the Good Lord sends some of them into our lives to move us forward out of our comfort zones or our complacency so that we can make progress on our faith journey.
I recently registered for a short online course called Migration Matters with an English university. I thought it would be useful for my work with Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees (SFAR) and the Working Group of the European Conference of Justice & Peace Commissions on Forced Migration and Human Rights. My only concerns about taking the course were centred on finding the time to do the required reading and take part in the online discussions.
I rather assumed that the other participants likely to be on the course would probably to be people like myself from faith communities with interests in migrant/refugee issues or UK students doing related courses of study. The surprise came when I accessed the website section where we were encouraged to introduce ourselves to each other.
Of the 27 participants, some were as expected: a woman priest from the Scottish Episcopal Church, a Scottish based NGO worker, a Methodist church worker. However the real surprise for me was that the majority of participants were refugees themselves, many based in the huge Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi (which houses 57,000 refugees according to UNHCR figures from March 2017, and which has been in existence since 1994).
As Pope Francis said in his tweet of 15 April 2016: “Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such.”
Well, now I had the names of some of these refugees, some of their pictures and parts of their stories. One has been in the Dzaleka camp since 2005, another since 2010.
Suddenly the course took on a whole new aspect for me and presented me with potential challenges as well. It would not be like any other course I had taken part in. The discussions were unlikely to be the comfortable academic ones about the papers we would be reading and the theories we would learning about, that I had anticipated. Many of our participants would be living daily the realities that we would be talking about.
Their brief introductions make it clear that, despite their refugee status and the uncertainties of their lives, they are taking every opportunity to get an education. A number have obtained qualifications through the Jesuit-run programme Jesuit Worldwide Learning (formerly Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins) in which the Jesuit Regis University is involved. Some also act as volunteers with UNHCR in the camp, seeking to help other refugees.
So before the course even starts, I have learned much. I was not aware of the Dzaleka camp and the fact that many refugees had been there for such a significant part, if not all, of their lives. Nor had I known of the great practical work being done by the Jesuit Refugee Service to try to ensure that young refugees don’t become a lost generation in terms of tertiary education.
So far, so good, but the challenge for me as we begin is: what do or can I bring to this course when I am so conscious that so many of the participants are dealing with the issues and facing the problems of being migrants and refugees as their reality.
Perhaps in a later blog, I can answer that question.
Migration Matters, is a short online course at Catherine of Siena College, University of Roehampton.