We must keep talking about refugees

Christians in particular have reason to keep talking about refugees given the Bible has much to say on this issue. Dr Ebony Birchall reflects on a new book 'Refuge Reimagined'.

Alarming stories from offshore detention centres in Manus Island and Nauru held the media’s interest over the past few years and news stories kept the nation talking about refugees. The media’s interest has faded, Covid has taken over news headlines and we are talking about refugees much less - but our sisters and brothers from refugee backgrounds need our attention and action now more than ever. 

The United Nations recently announced that last year the world resettled the lowest number of refugees in nearly twenty years, even though there are record numbers of people needing a safe home. Our country has also reduced support for people seeking safety. In 2020, the Morrison Government cut the number of people our nation would resettle by 5,000 per year. The Morrison Government has also cut financial assistance for people seeking safety by 86% since 2017. 

Christians in particular have reason to keep talking about refugees given the Bible has much to say on this issue. Have you ever thought through what the Bible says about people from refugee backgrounds? 

Refuge Reimagined is a new book from Australian brothers, Mark and Luke Glanville.  Mark is an Old Testament scholar and Luke is an Associate Professor in International Relations. Their joint qualifications allow them to write from a unique perspective that is both deeply Biblical and grounded in the political realities of the global refugee situation. 

Their central message is that the Bible calls followers of Jesus to embrace people from refugee backgrounds as ‘kin’ or family. God’s people are urged repeatedly throughout the Bible to extend kinship to those who are on the outside of community. We are to welcome into the protective centre of the community those who are without clan, without family, without home. This is a challenging but deeply transformative message. 

The book begins by tracing the biblical ethic of kinship throughout the Old and New Testaments. Part two takes a practical approach and addresses how the call to kinship might shape the mission of the Church today. The last parts of the book wrestle with political and global contexts. This is where the authors’ dual expertise becomes crucial. They acknowledge the application and pursuit of kinship with refugees at a national or global level may seem too political or too idealistic. And they do the work of engaging with complex realities and presenting their vision as one that is feasible (even if challenging) and an ideal that, by the power of the Spirit, we ought to strive toward. 

This book is beautiful to read. The overarching message mirrors the very heart of the Gospel – that God embraces all people as family, and we have the privilege of doing likewise. And it is written with creativity and love. The authors have collected the stories and voices of many people, from those with lived experience and people working in the sector. The collective experience and wisdom recorded in the book is rich and relational. The authors have brought life and soul to a topic which too often becomes distanced behind heavy statistics. 

Refuge Reimagined will take you on a rich journey. It paints a festive picture of God’s design for restored relationships and community. It is a picture the Church desperately needs for guiding our treatment of people from refugee backgrounds and for our treatment of one another. 

This post began by explaining we must continue to talk about refugees, lest they be forgotten in a time of great need. Of course, talking is just one step and one which is vital in our current context. Refuge Reimagined provides many more creative ideas to help us toward a restored world. In that world, there would be people from refugee backgrounds sitting with us at dinner tables and living with us as part of rich, diverse communities. We would learn from each other in relationship, as kin. What a wonderful vision, worthy of pursuit. 


Refuge Reimagined was released last week. You can buy it here.

Dr Ebony Birchall manages Common Grace’s Justice Theology Project. She is a lawyer and researcher in refugee law, policy and ethics.



People Seeking Asylum