THE Government must take in many more refugees from Syria, and create safe passage for others to reach Britain, the General Synod has said.
A long motion, which, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned tacitly, committed the Church of England to backing military action, was passed by the Synod on Wednesday morning.
Moved by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, the motion called on the Government to “increase the number [of refugees resettled] significantly beyond its target of 20,000 over five years”.
It also said that the Government should “establish safe and legal routes to places of safety, including this country”.
It was this reference, Archbishop Welby said, that “essentially commits us to supporting the use of armed force overseas. To create safe ways and routes to places of safety must include some kind of forceful response. It is almost impossible to see how it can be done otherwise.”
Just as armed French police had been forced to storm the Bataclan theatre in Paris to save civilians from terrorists, so the international community had to confront people who had seized not just a concert venue, but “a whole section of land, and are using it to wreak the most terrible havoc and cruelty”.
A day earlier, in his presidential address, Archbishop Welby had said that the “generational” conflict that the world faced in combating extremism would probably require “the use of armed force in a quasi-policing form”.
Introducing his motion, Bishop Butler said that about 800,000 refugees had arrived in Europe in 2015 alone, and about 3200 had died in their attempt to reach the continent. “The numbers are approximate. But God knows exactly how many there are . . . each one made in God’s image, and someone for whom Christ died.”
Although the commitment to receive 20,000 Syrians in the UK was a “good start”, he said, he noted that 84 bishops had written urging that the UK should take more (News, 16 October).
Bishop Butler called for fair treatment for Christians displaced by conflict. “We have no wish to accelerate an exodus of Christians from any part of the Middle East; and yet there are Christian people who cannot be safe or flourish in any part of the Middle East which they can reach.”
Even if they are not easy to locate in UN camps, they must have a chance for resettlement, too, he said.
The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, attempted to amend the motion by replacing wording that “welcomed” the Government’s resettlement programme with wording “acknowledging” the scheme. “The Government offer is too little, and could be more generous,” Dean Nunn said. “I did not welcome it [when it was announced], and I do not welcome it now.”
The amendment failed, but another, which more explicitly required the Government to take its share of refugees who had already reached the EU, was successful.
The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, warned that the surge in donations to charities in Calais that are dealing with the “Jungle” refugee camp had overwhelmed volunteers. “There is a total lack of infrastructure and co-ordination, and the Christian community runs the risk of being part of the problem, not the solution,” he warned.
People in the poorest parts of Europe were facing the heaviest burden, the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, said. He called for better co-ordination among Christians, and “deeply theological reflection on the causes and nature of migration”.
Other members of the Synod criticised hostility to refugees and migration. Elliot Swattridge, representing the C of E Youth Council, said that the xenophobia he had found online made him ashamed to be British.
Dr Megan Warner, from the diocese of London, said that she had hoped to leave anti-immigrant rhetoric behind when she left her native Australia two years ago. But, instead, she had discovered similar anger at migrants in Britain. God’s people had always been refugees in his world, she reminded the Synod. “It is for us to live as aliens, and not to alienate others.”
The Revd Stephen Lynas recalled how he had spent a gap year in the 1970s working in a refugee camp in Kent, assisting Ugandan Asians who had been expelled by Idi Amin. A Conservative Government had organised the airlifting of thousands of refugees, he said. The response was very different from the current one.