THE General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain, Bishop Angaelos, has called on the Government to multiply its efforts to resettle Middle Eastern refugees in the UK.
Bishop Angaelos visited a transit camp for refugees on the border of Greece and Macedonia earlier this month, and said that the people he met were desperate to find a safer life.
He spoke on Tuesday about a conversation with a young Syrian. “He said: ‘In Syria we are used to quick deaths through bombs and bullets, but we are embarking on a slow death.’ He was referring to the trip by sea.” (News, 18 September)
Bishop Angaelos said the fact that people would take their families on a journey they knew to be perilous showed how dangerous the life they were leaving behind was. People were fleeing the civil war and communities where they thought there was no future.
“We need to look at this more compassionately, and realise they are not economic migrants. They are moving from a war-torn, poverty-stricken country to somewhere they can provide for themselves and their families.”
He said that, while he didn’t know what an appropriate number of refugees for Britain to take in was, the 20,000 promised by the Government was not enough. “Whatever number we choose will not be enough,” he warned.
He was speaking on the day the first refugees from camps surrounding Syria arrived in the UK, part of the resettlement scheme announced by the Prime Minister earlier this month (News, 11 September).
To meet the target of 20,000 refugees by 2020, the UK will have to accept an average of 400 each month. Only refugees who are deemed vulnerable and are living in camps in countries neighbouring Syria will be eligible for the scheme.
Bishop Angaelos backed this approach to the problem. “It’s very good to take people from the camps because it then dissuades people from making the journey [themselves]. The reason they are making this life-threatening journey is because they know there is no way out of the camps.”
But with thousands of Syrian migrants reaching the shores of Europe every day, the EU has been wrestling with how to cope with the massive influx. On Tuesday, it announced a mandatory resettlement quota system for 120,000 migrants.
The plan calls for 54,000 migrants in Hungary, 50,000 in Greece, and 16,000 in Italy to be redistributed across the continent, according to EU nations’ GDP, unemployment rate, and other factors in a complex formula.
The scheme was immediately opposed by several central European countries, who had voted against it but found themselves over-ruled. The UK, with Denmark and Ireland, has an opt-out from the scheme, which it has exercised.
It is unclear whether the proposal will go ahead. Some countries threatened legal action to ensure unwanted refugees were not forced upon them. Furthermore, the 120,000 refugees in the scheme are far exceeded by the 438,000 who have applied for asylum in Europe between January and July alone.
Some Christian organisations have called for more compassion among Europe’s leaders to the refugees flooding into the continent. Organisation Mobilisation (OM) International’s director Lawrence Tong said: “Like us, these displaced people are created in the image of God. . . We have both a spiritual and moral obligation to help them.
“I urge you to pray for them and their plight, and act with extraordinary courage and generosity to help these people settle into their new societies.”
In a statement, World Vision UK welcomed the EU quota plan. It said: “A rapid response to create and empower a co-ordinated redistribution mechanism is essential to provide hope and protection for these vulnerable populations.”
The charity has also condemned the use of water cannon and tear gas to force hundreds of migrants from the border of Syria and Hungary, as “appalling” and “unacceptable”.
The head of policy and public affairs in the UK for World Vision, Gavin Crowden, said: “Every country has the right and power to patrol its own borders, but this kind of heavy-handed and aggressive response we are seeing on the Serbia-Hungarian border is not only appalling — it is unacceptable.”
Last week World Vision began distributing aid at a camp in Horgos on the Serbia-Hungary border, where thousands of refugees are stationed.
The charity’s rapid-response team member, Joy Toose, who is based in Serbia, said: “There has been a growing sense of frustration in Horgos. In the past 24 hours, families have been arriving rapidly and they are getting more desperate than ever.”
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has also pledged its support to stranded refugees. CTBI trustees and staff visited the border of Greece and Macedonia, where refugees are also congregating, on Thursday.
The general secretary, the Revd Bob Fyffe, said: “The refugees we have met were carrying their entire lives in plastic bags. How can that be a choice? As church leaders, we are at the soul of our communities. And we show solidarity with those who are working tirelessly to protect the dignity of the refugees, and save the lives of those forced to make the perilous journey to Europe.”
Bishop Angaelos, who also visited a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq, echoed Archbishop Welby’s concern for Christian migrants (News, 18 September). He said that many Christians from Iraq and Syria were avoiding camps in Jordan and Lebanon fearing persecution.
Thus, the Government’s resettlement scheme was likely not to take many Christians. “I don’t think we should give priority to Christians because they are Christians, but because they are more vulnerable,” Bishop Angaelos said.
Policy on Syria and the refugee crisis - Letters to the editor