NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (OSV News) — In a world where 103 million people are forcibly displaced, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Catholic missionaries are often first responders helping those in need of a new home.
“Salesian missionaries live among the communities they work in and are on the front lines of the refugee crisis. They provide support and services for refugees and internally displaced persons whose lives have been affected by war, persecution, famine, and natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and earthquakes,” said Father Timothy Ploch, interim director of Salesian Missions, based in New Rochelle.
UNHCR estimates that 53.2 million people are displaced within their own country and 32.5 million are refugees. More than 72% come from five countries, including Syria, Venezuela, Ukraine, Afghanistan and South Sudan. UNHCR expects the number to climb to 117.2 million people who will be forcibly displaced or stateless in 2023. June 20 is World Refugee Day, as designated by the United Nations.
Ahead of World Refugee Day, the Salesians highlighted some of their programs that aid refugees and the internally displaced, sharing the stories of people like Dorcas Ndibungo, 36, who is from Congo and has been at Don Bosco Ngangi in Goma, North Kivu province, since she was displaced in November 2022. She fled her village north of Goma with her eight children.
She has been seeking shelter at the center since then and was fortunate to have the medical center to aid in her pregnancy and delivery of triplets — a boy and two girls.
While Congo faces ongoing clashes that have been displacing thousands of people, Salesian missionaries continue with their work.
Initially set up to provide care for youth living at Don Bosco Ngangi, the medical center later began providing maternity, consultation, laboratory, hospitalization, prevention, pharmacy and nutrition services. This has been particularly important with the addition of 28,000 people who have sought shelter in the center’s fields.
The medical center has been transformed into an emergency hospital for thousands who have been displaced. The medical team includes a doctor, a laboratory technician, a physiotherapist, a clinical psychologist, two hygienists and five nurses. In the first two months of assisting those displaced, the medical center treated 1,702 people.
Apart from health care, education is a number one need of refugees, especially displaced children.
Don Bosco Zeitoun, located in Cairo, Egypt, provides education and support to Sudanese refugees in the country for more than two decades.
Since space is very limited, Don Bosco Zeitoun Oratory organizes activities for refugees three days a week. An average of 250 children attend the oratory, and mothers have their own meetings. On the three days when not working with Sudanese refugees, the Don Bosco Zeitoun Oratory organizes activities for as many youths from the neighborhood as possible.
In Europe, in the meantime, Salesian missionaries who remain in Ukraine and in surrounding countries like Poland and Slovakia are still hard at work caring for those who have been impacted and displaced by the 15-month-old conflict. More than 8 million Ukrainian citizens, mostly women, the elderly and children, are living as refugees in other countries.
Salesian missionaries in Slovakia have been at the side of people in need since the first hours of the conflict, taking in orphans from Lviv and opening the doors to their centers to provide shelter for as many people as possible. Salesians continue to care for them today, providing basic needs like food, shelter and medical care. They are also ensuring education for youth and language courses for adults, so that they can become as self-sufficient as possible and find work to support themselves.
With ongoing conflict and insecurity in Sudan, Salesian missionaries with St. Vincent de Paul Parish are operating the Don Bosco Gumbo camp for internally displaced persons in Juba, South Sudan.
The camp, established in January 2014 after the outbreak of the civil war in December 2013, currently hosts 10,000 people, most of whom are women, children and the elderly. Salesians provide shelter, food, education, medical care and other basic needs.
In addition to the camp, Don Bosco Gumbo provides education for more than 4,000 children and older youth in its schools. There are two kindergartens, two primary-middle schools, an accelerated elementary school, a secondary school, and vocational training center, which offers courses in electricity, mechanics, stoneworks/masonry, solar panel technician skills, welding and computer studies. More than 700 older youth gain skills for later employment through this training.
Father Ploch stressed that “Salesian programs provide much-needed education and technical skills training, workforce development, health care and nutrition.”