IAFR 2020 - 2021 Report

Psalm 107

Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle.

They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away.

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from distress.

He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men.

For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

What We Do

We help people survive and recover from forced displacement and train others to do the same.

Who We Serve

We serve people who have been forcibly displaced from their homelands by war, persecution, and gross violations of human rights.

Where We Serve

We serve wherever asylum seekers and refugees are found, including refugee camps, urban centers, and rural communities. IAFR ministry locations are identified on the following map.

Why We Serve

The love of God compels us to seek the well-being of those who have been stripped of place in the world.

From the President

Even as the attention of the world was fixed on the global Covid-19 pandemic, millions of people were newly uprooted from their homes and homelands in the past year.

While the number of refugees and asylum seekers has doubled in the past 10 years, humanitarian space is shrinking. An increasing number of countries are pulling up the drawbridge and fortifying their borders to keep desperate people out.

Between 2016-2020, the US dramatically reduced the annual number of refugees it was willing to resettle from 100,000 to less 16,000. At the same time, it instituted a number of policies specifically designed to deter asylum seekers from crossing its southern border.

Meanwhile the European Union (EU) has been outsourcing asylum by paying countries like Turkey 6 billion Euros to keep asylum seekers within its borders.

The EU has also collaborated with the Libyan military to prevent asylum seekers and other migrants from crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. Many are now held in Libya’s notorious detention centers. With EU support, Libya has in turn begun outsourcing some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

In 2021, the Kenyan government announced its decision to close its two main refugee camps, affecting over half a million displaced people (including those we serve in Kakuma refugee camp). This is a disturbing development as Kenya has long been a welcoming refuge to people fleeing conflict and persecution in the region. Where are these women, children, and men supposed to go?

The fact is that the number of people fleeing war, persecution, and gross violations of human rights continues to rise, while much of the world is working harder than ever to keep them out rather than offer them the protection they need.

Whenever refugees and asylum seekers are portrayed as dangerous, we must speak up on their behalf and clarify that they are not a threat, but rather people who need our protection.

It is discouraging to see how many people who identify as Christian have bought into the unfounded “refugees are dangerous” rhetoric. Many who claim the Bible as the compass by which they live their lives lack an informed biblical perspective on forced migration.

But while that is true, I am encouraged to see a growing number of Christians and churches actively seeking the well-being of refugees and asylum seekers. Requests for ministry training and consulting have come to IAFR from Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and Southeast Asia.

We are in the midst of a global movement of the Holy Spirit calling the Church out onto the refugee highway to meet the women, children, and men flowing out of the deepest wounds in our world with the lovingkindness of God.

As we show up in the lives of our displaced friends, we will find God is already at work and eager for us to join with him. This report offers a look at how we experience this in our ministries in Africa, Europe, and the USA. I hope that you will peruse our blog for more stories and ministry updates (www.IAFR.org/blog).

As you read, I hope you will notice how often we partner directly with refugees, former refugees, churches, and local organizations as we pursue our mission. The strength of this strategy became clear during the Covid-19 pandemic as we were able to quickly pivot and continue our work through these trusted partnerships.

Tom Albinson, Founder/President, International Association for Refugees

Breaking Isolation & Strengthening Faith

David was in the desert when he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David and helped him find strength in God. (1 Samuel 23)

Refugees are often separated from family, friends, and community during their desperate journey to find safety. Those who survive find themselves in an unfamiliar location facing a terribly uncertain future. The new host community often makes it clear that they are not wanted and that they do not belong. On top of all that, refugee camps are often found in remote and underserved geographical locations, physically isolating the people from the rest of the world.

Extreme isolation can only be overcome through relationships.

Many of our refugees friends have been stuck in such circumstances for over a decade. It takes more than humanitarian aid to overcome their isolation and strengthen their hope, faith, and resilience.

As IAFR’s Jacob Tornga recently put it:

Resilience begins with knowing that you are not alone and that you are not forgotten. It takes quality time spent together, building trust through shared experiences, and being present in the midst of suffering even when we do not have answers or solutions. It involves worshiping together, praying together, and reaching out to God with each other.

This is as true for our friends in refugee camps as it is for asylum seekers and refugees in urban centers and rural towns in Europe and the US.

Our work is about more than projects, programs, and services. It is about breaking isolation and letting our friends know that they are not alone and that they are not forgotten.

And this is why pursuing relationships with those we serve is core to everything we do.

Red and Green Lines

We frame a lot of what we do in terms of red and green lines.

The red line represents things needed to keep people alive and breathing. When people are forced to flee their homeland due to war, persecution, and gross violations of human rights, they quickly find themselves on the red line - in need of food, water, shelter, medical care, and safety. So we constantly assess whether the refugees and asylum seekers we serve have access to these basic provisions.

Thankfully, there are many humanitarian agencies that specialize in providing red line solutions in the midst of humanitarian crisis. This important work naturally lends itself to large scale service programs (e.g. refugee camps, food, water, and firewood distribution centers, etc.).

But meeting red line needs alone is not enough for people to recover from forced displacement.

The green line recognizes that hope and resilience are also essential to survival and recovery. They are strongest when people have supportive community, a life-giving faith/worldview, emotional well-being, and opportunities to make a meaningful contribution to society. Of course, a new skill set comes in handy too.

So green line work focuses on strengthening hope and resilience by investing in these things. Such work requires relationships of trust and is generally not well-suited to large scale programs. While green line work is essential to recovery, there are few organizations that make it a priority. The green line is our sweet spot.

In practice, the red and green lines are not neatly divided. Much of our work is on both lines simultaneously.

The following stories from a few of our ministry locations will help flesh that out.

More than Shelter

Jonathan House

When Baba’s family members spoke out for democracy and political change, the government murdered them. It then singled out Baba for persecution, torture, and imprisonment.

I ran to save my life because they wanted to kill me too.” -Baba

Baba had to leave her children behind when she fled to America. She is now among the asylum seekers living in one of IAFR’s safe houses in the Twin Cities that we call Jonathan House.

Like many asylum seekers and refugees, faith plays an important role in Baba’s life. Soon after her arrival in Minnesota, she sought out a local church community.

Jonathan House is a very nice place for asylum seekers. You accept people as family. You enter into my problems to pray with me. You got me connected to my church and talked with my pastor. This is what I appreciate. Jonathan House encourages me in my faith.”

Because of the important relationship between faith and hope, our team offers prayer and encouragement to Jonathan House residents that want it. When possible, we also help connect them with a local community of faith.

Healing more than Broken Bones


A young Afghan refugee broke his collarbone in a motorbike accident. Although the pain was severe, the hospital sent him home in a simple brace.

Our team was concerned and showed his x-rays to an orthopedic surgeon who volunteers with our refugee medical center in Athens. He confirmed that the break was serious. Our friend would lose full use of his arm unless he received immediate surgical intervention.

Thanks to our generous financial partners, the team was able to act quickly and get him the needed surgery at a private hospital.

But the team did more than help him get badly needed medical care.

In the days leading up to his surgery, he shared with them the heart-breaking story of his difficult childhood and the deaths of his parents. These deep wounds need healing too.

The team was there to listen. A teammate later commented.

He has experienced little affection or kindness over the years and was deeply touched when we helped him in this simple way.

God is using the Athens team to help heal more than his broken collarbone.

Building a School with the Refugee Church

Dzaleka Refugee Camp

Malawi is among the poorest countries in the world, but it has not let its economic challenges serve as an excuse to refuse refuge to people fleeing war, persecution, and gross violations of human rights.

Malawi hosts around 50,000 refugees in Dzaleka refugee camp today.

IAFR has been partnering with refugee churches in Dzaleka since 2009. They have often shared their concern that their children are falling behind when it comes to education. So they have come up with a compelling solution to overcome the severe lack of educational resources, teachers, and adequate facilities.

Refugee churches are building a school on the edge of Dzaleka refugee camp.

Once in session, the school will help prevent both refugee and local Malawian children from falling behind in their education. The doors will open and children will fill the classrooms in the fall of 2021!

We are helping our refugee partners cover the costs of building materials. They are contributing their resources, skills, and effort.

We are not only meeting a critical need for education. We are helping refugees make a meaningful contribution to both the Malawian and refugee communities.

Emergency Response with the Refugee Church

Kakuma Refugee Camp

When a surge of Covid-19 cases sent Kenya into a nationwide lockdown, remote areas of the country like Kakuma were put at great risk. The usual inflow of food and other goods stopped. Prices increased as items became less available. Those most vulnerable could not afford essential food items.

Our refugee church partner in Kakuma refugee camp asked IAFR to help them provide emergency food assistance for those hit hardest by the lockdown.

At the time of their request, we did not have any funding available to help. But about six hours later, we received a generous and unexpected grant in the mail -designated for our work in Kakuma!

God had set provision into motion even before we knew of the need!

We quickly sent funding to our refugee church partner so they could purchase nonperishable food items. It didn’t take long before they had distributed one month’s supply of food to over 600 people.

Not only did this save lives, it provided us with an opportunity to affirm that our refugee brothers and sisters are more than people in need. They are an important part of the solution to the many challenges they face. They took took care of the logistics, and did all of the heavy lifting.

We partner with an association of 163 churches from the Kakuma refugee camp and the host community.

Theological Training for Refugees

It was 2011. I was in remote northwestern Kenya, visiting refugees in Kakuma refugee camp. I asked a group of refugee pastors to name some of their greatest challenges and needs. Their response was as quick as it was unexpected.

We need theological training.”

It shouldn’t have caught me by surprise. Refugee pastors carry the weight and trauma of their own displacement - plus that of their faith communities.

They have all suffered the trauma of forced displacement. They are far from home with little hope of ever returning. They live with great uncertainty about their future. Daily life in the camp is hard.

Such an environment is sure to test one’s faith.

So IAFR has been partnering with Wheaton College to bring Dr. George Kalantzis to Kakuma to offer theological training intensives to a select group of pastors from the refugee camp and host community.

During the Covid crisis, we heard another cry for theological training from an Iraqi refugee woman in Central Asia. This led to Dr. Kalantzis offering online theological training for her and a handful of other displaced Christian leaders from Somalia, DR Congo, and Eritrea.

It is our joy and privilege to invest in the faith of these remarkable sisters and brothers in Christ.

Training and Consulting

We know that our vision and mission is bigger than anything we can accomplish on our own. That’s why we are eager to share what we are learning and equip others for life-giving ministry among refugees and asylum seekers.

There are signs that God is stirring up a global movement of Christians seeking to welcome and serve refugees. We count it a privilege to help churches and agencies in diverse parts of the world show up along the refugee highway in ways that are meaningful and appropriate.

Ministry among forcibly displaced people is not missions-as-usual.

People, agencies, networks, and churches have sought out IAFR training from all over the world (including Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, South America, Central America, and North America). Interest in IAFR training opportunities did not slow down even during the Covid pandemic.

We also offer resources from our website, designed to help raise awareness and inform others of global refugee realities. Many of them offer helpful biblical perspective concerning forced displacement. Our resources are used and promoted by the World Evangelical Alliance, the Refugee Highway Partnership, and many other Christian entities around the world.

You can find IAFR ministry resources at www.IAFR.org/toolbox.

Biblical Perspective

From the divine banishment of Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23,24) to the final book of the Bible penned by John while in exile on the island of Patmos, stories of forced displacement run throughout Scripture.

The foreigner is often mentioned in the Bible together with the fatherless and the widow - vulnerable people for whom God deeply cares.

What foreigner is most like the widow and the fatherless, if not the refugee?

God’s word repeatedly calls us to love and care for refugees in tangible ways. We are to be sure that their needs for shelter, food, and clothing are met. We are to extend hospitality and seek justice on their behalf as well.

When Jesus was a young child political persecution forced him and his family to flee in the night to Egypt. Upon their return, they did not feel it was safe to go back to their hometown in Judea and settled elsewhere (in Nazareth).

Jesus personally identifies with refugees and asylum seekers. They can also identify with him.

We are living in a century marked by a global refugee crisis. Followers of Jesus Christ will do well to rediscover our God‐given privilege and responsibility to welcome refugees into our communities and to help them survive and recover from forced displacement.

For by serving them, we serve Jesus.

Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya


All photos and images by Thomas P. Albinson.