CHRISTIANS fleeing persecution must be given equal access to the Prime Minister’s plan to settle 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Anba Angaelos, has urged.
Bishop Angaelos warned that Syrian Christians could inadvertently be left out of the Government’s initiative to resettle 20,000 displaced Syrians in the UK over the next five years.
Church of England bishops have criticised this government scheme, saying that Britain ought to accept an extra 30,000 refugees.
Bishop Angaelos, who visited displaced Iraqi Christians in Kurdistan in May, said that they were refusing to live in UNHCR camps because they felt too frightened. Advocacy groups say that Christians fear persecution at the hands of Islamists who have infiltrated the camps.
Bishop Angaelos confirmed this: “Christians don’t feel safe in the camps, and that needs to be addressed.” At least, he said, they needed to be given access to the Government’s scheme. They were, instead, being hosted by local church communities and Christian families.
Bishop Angaelos was speaking after a Coptic New Year service at St Margaret’s, Westminster, last week. Many Orthodox clerics, as well as a former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, attended, as also did the Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza; the chairwoman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, Baroness Berridge; and the chairman of Christians on the Left, Stephen Timms MP.
The Prince of Wales, David Cameron, and the Archbishop of Canterbury all sent messages of support.
Prince Charles, who has previously voiced concerns about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, wrote: “I continue to pray for the safety of your brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Archbishop Welby praised “our Coptic and Ethiopian brothers in Christ” who were beheaded in Libya by Islamic State jihadists earlier this year, as well as “the Armenian martyrs” a century ago.
He stopped short, however, of calling the 1915 massacres “genocide”. Britain, which counts Turkey as an ally, has repeatedly refused to recognise the killings as genocide.