Names and faces of wars

John Siebert Armed Conflicts, News

The luck of geography and smart diplomacy over several centuries go a long way towards explaining Canada’s insulation from wars on its own territory. Canada faces no direct military threat. We are fortunate.

That does not mean that wars in other parts of the world don’t affect us. We send our troops and guns to places like Cyprus, the Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan and Libya. The victims and survivors of war stream to our cities and towns seeking relief. The same is true of our neighbour to the south.

At Easter my wife Carolyn and I travelled to Comer, Georgia, to visit our son, Dylan, who was volunteering for five months at Jubilee Partners. It is “an intentional Christian service community…offering hospitality to refugees who have newly arrived in the U.S.” Part of Dylan’s work included teaching English to Karen and Karini children who had come with their parents from refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border.

These were just the latest guests at Jubilee listed on a sign outside the school house on the property. Starting in 1980 Jubilee has welcomed thousands of refugees from hot spots and war zones in this order: Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Haiti, Armenia, Bosnia, Liberia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia, Congo, Togo, Syria, Ethiopia, Mexico, Eritrea, Iran, Columbia, China, Iraq, Burundi, Chad, Burma.

To my eyes this list is an idiosyncratic recounting of three decades of wars of various types. Reading it I tried to recall the particular circumstances of each of these conflicts. Which had stopped and why? Which re-started or drag on, and why? The work of Jubilee and other organizations welcoming refugees from around the world put particular faces and heart-rending stories to the geographic names.

The 2011 Project Ploughshares Armed Conflicts Report indicates a drop in the number of conflicts in 2010 from 28 to 24 over 2009. That is a drop from a high of 44 armed conflicts in the world about 15 years ago. But the reported total numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons is actually on the rise. Our work on peacebuilding and disarmament to stop wars isn’t close to finished. As long as that is the case, neither is Jubilee’s refugee reception work. What new place names will be added to its list in the coming years?

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