From a Christo-Judaic view the notion of refuge has been vital for justice and for the health of community. Internally, the people of ancient Israel were instructed (God through Moses) to designate six cities of refuge for those who had slain another person (Pentateuch – Numbers 35). If the slayer/murderer could make it to the city of designated refuge they were reprieved from the death penalty so long as they remained within the refuge city’s walls. it was latterly taught in rabbinical schools that any town run by the Levites was to be considered a town of refuge but only the designated towns could not refuse or revoke a refugee. So, although this was particular to Israel, it stands as a principal of compassion and for all people because Israel was originally to be the model for other peoples on how to live in the light and love of God.
And there is the imperative from Leviticus 19.33 – 34, that the people of Israel were to treat any alien in the land as if they were their own family. The end of verse 34 is particularly significant because it reminds the people of Israel that they too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. As with ironic and prophetic poignancy the Holy Family were also to find refuge in Egypt! (doubly ironic given the state of affairs of the modern Middle East!).
The missionary Don Richardson working in West Papua or Irian Jaya discovered that in that culture there was provision for cities of refuge.
In Islam the refugee is also cared for irrespective of religion or culture. The Prophet Muhammad found refuge among the people of Madinah, and there are many historical anecdotes and historical records of acts of refuge for Muslims by others and by Muslims for people of all persuasions. Shari’ah Law (Pathway) also encourages the safety of aliens and refugees, and teaches that anyone seeking refuge in a Mosque or sacred place is to be given protection and hospitality. But it also goes further and and encourages people to designate their homes and civic buildings as places for refuge. in the Qur’an, Sura 9.6 (see also sura 8.72 ff., and 9.100, 117, among many) asks for pagans to be given refuge, and yes, in the hope they will also eventually find hope in Allah, but the refuge (Aman) must be given!
Whether you are religious or not isn’t the point, it is that in culture past, people found within themselves to look beyond self and even to make laws to protect people, especially those seeking refuge. and if you are prone to a cynicism (original meaning – to question) then it is not about how religion has clearly failed to honour its own teachings. The ideal still stands, can we reach it?
I reflect on that and find hope, hope for a world where we are less concerned for tribe and self and more concerned for building a community where care and compassion can be the foundation for a less negative world. Where the globe itself is a city of refuge.