The Spirit of Christmas

An unprecedented number of children are vulnerable this Christmas, with the world facing four enormous, ongoing and mostly ignored crises causing record numbers of people to be displaced, World Vision Australia chief advocate, Reverend Tim Costello said today.

Christmas is a good time to reflect on the great themes of generosity and compassion, Reverend Costello said.

“While Australians prepare for feasting and festivities, we need to remember there are more than 33 million children who have no place to call home this Christmas,” he said.

“At a time when we remember the story of a child born in a manger, let’s not forget the children who are right now sheltering in tents, on fields and roadsides, in the nowhere land between countries.”

Reverend Costello said millions had been forced from their homes in 2017 by conflict in Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

War has caused the displacement of:

  • More than 600,000 refugees from Myanmar in the past 4 months
  • 11 million Syrians
  • 4.7 million people in the DRC – the highest in Africa
  • More than 4 million South Sudanese

After a year of seismic geopolitical shifts and forced migrations, Reverend Costello is calling on the federal government to increase Australia’s refugee intake to 42,000 and restore the decimated aid budget, which is currently at its lowest ever level.

“The Syrian war is soon to mark its seventh anniversary, people continue to flee violence in Myanmar and South Sudan, and more than 4 million people are displaced by the ongoing tribal violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he said.

Reverend Costello said that of all the world’s trouble spots, the situation in DRC is rapidly deteriorating with a critically underfunded humanitarian response. The UN has elevated the crisis to its highest-level emergency, alongside Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

“Children are the main victims of tribal and ethnic violence. The scale of the DRC crisis is comparable with Syria -- yet no organisation in the field can possibly deliver the full response that’s required because of access and funding issues,” he said.

“World Vision workers are concerned that former child soldiers, who made up about 60 per cent of militia fighters, will re-join the fighting because there’s nowhere else to go. It’s absolutely paramount that we immediately provide adequate psychosocial support and reconnect these children with education.”

Reverend Costello said 2017 would stay with him for the shocking extent of violence suffered by people who identify as Rohingya in Myanmar, with hundreds of thousands of stateless people fleeing burning villages, murder and rape and now facing child malnutrition and diseases including cholera and diphtheria in the refugee camps of Bangladesh.

“Since violence broke out in Rakhine State on August 25, the endless stream of refugees has created impossible conditions in Bangladesh, itself an impoverished and overcrowded country. I have visited many terrible refugee camps but this was like walking through the gates of hell,” he said.

Reverend Costello pointed out that more than 84 per cent of displaced people are sheltered by developing countries, in some instances where Australia has cut aid altogether, such as East Africa. “The rate at which people are becoming displaced is unacceptably high and remains the greatest humanitarian challenge of our time,” he said.

“There are more than 65 million people displaced around the world. From our enviable position of peace and prosperity, Australia could do so much more to shoulder the burden created by forced migration. 

“We must work together to make sure these people protected and cared for while solutions are pursued.”

For interview with Tim Costello, please contact:

Leah Swann 0421 857 591

Donation link: Myanmar-Bangladesh refugee crisis

Picture: Rohingya woman and child, Bangladesh refugee camp

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