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'We cannot turn our backs on this crisis'

04 September 2015


Standstill: people shout slogans outside a train that was stopped in Bicske, Hungary, on Friday morning 

Standstill: people shout slogans outside a train that was stopped in Bicske, Hungary, on Friday morning 

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has described the ongoing migrant crisis as a "hugely complex and wicked" one, to which there were no easy answers. 

"My heart is broken by the images and stories of men, women and children who have risked their lives to escape conflict, violence and persecution", he said in a statement on Thursday.

We needed a holistic response to this crisis, "that meets immediate humanitarian need while tackling its underlying drivers."

The Archbishop said that he commended the Government's commitment to the delivery of the aid budget to the world's poorest people, including provision of £900 million since 2012 to the crisis in Syria.

The Government "rightly sought to provide sanctuary to unaccompanied children, women and those who have been victims of, or are at risk of, sexual violence."

He reaffirmed the Church's commitment to the principle of sanctuary. “We cannot turn our backs on this crisis. We must respond with compassion. But we must also not be naïve in claiming to have the answers to end it."

On Friday, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that, "given the scale of the crisis and the suffering of the people", the UK would take "thousands" of Syrians.

"We will continue with our approach of taking them from the refugee camps," he said. "This provides them with a more direct and safe route to the UK, rather than risking the hazardous journey which has tragically cost so many lives.

"We will discuss how best to design these schemes and the numbers we will take with NGOs and our partners. We will set out more details next week. . . 

"Britain will act with our head and our heart, providing refuge for those in need while working on long term solutions to this crisis."

On Thursday, police allowed migrants who had been waiting at the main railway station in Budapest for days to board a train, but later tried to make them disembark at a refugee camp to the west of the Hungarian capital.

Many people refused, and a stand-off with riot police continued into a second day. The Hungarian parliament was expected on Friday to endorse measures to seal the country's border with Serbia.

Several other European meetings on Friday were scheduled to discuss the migrant crisis.

The Pope has led prayers for the 71 people, believed to be refugees from Syria, who were found dead in a lorry on the Austrian-Hungarian border last week.

“Unfortunately, in recent days, many migrants have lost their lives in their terrible journey,” Pope Francis said during his Angelus address in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on Sunday. “For all these brothers and sisters, I pray, and ask you to pray.

“In particular, I join . . . the whole Church in Austria in prayer for the 71 people, including four children, found in a truck on the Vienna-Budapest highway. We entrust each of them to the mercy of God; and we ask him to help us to co-operate effectively to prevent these crimes, which offend the entire human family.”

The people in the lorry were some of the more than 300 migrants and asylum-seekers who were killed as they attempted to make their way to Europe last week.

Three Bulgarians and an Afghan were remanded in custody for one month by a Hungarian court on Saturday. They will be held for questioning before they answer charges of torture and trafficking.

The four men are wanted in Austria on suspicion of the murder of the 59 men, eight women, and four children, who died in the lorry from suffocation. A fifth suspect, a Bulgarian, was arrested by Hungarian police on Sunday.

The identities and origins of those who had died are not known. Police forensics officers found one Syrian travel document.

Hundreds more migrants died last week in two separate incidents off the coast of Libya. The Libyan coastguard found about 40 bodies inside a half-sunk fishing boat a kilometre from the port of Zuwara, and up to 200 bodies were found in the sea. The boat is thought to have had 400 migrants on board when it set off. The aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières said that 201 survivors were rescued.

The EU Commission and the European Parliament want to introduce a system of quotas so that refugees and asylum-seekers can be shared across the EU. But the proposals have stalled at the European Council, as some countries — notably the UK — oppose the move.

Home-affairs and justice ministers from across the EU will debate the issue once again when they meet in Brussels on 14 September. Yesterday, defence ministers were due to discuss plans for military action in Libya to combat the people-trafficking operations.

Austria is the last country that refugees from Syria will pass through on their way to Germany, in a journey that begins with a boat trip from Syria or Turkey to Greece, before progressing through Eastern Europe. Most will continue their journey to Berlin, but others will stop in many of the transit countries.

“We have a great influx of migrants. Many of them are staying here [in Austria] as well,” the Archdeacon of the Eastern Archdeaconry of the diocese in Europe, the Ven. Patrick Curran, said on Friday afternoon. “It is a crisis, and lots of people are reacting to it in different ways.

“The Churches are doing a lot here in Austria. You could say that they are the conscience of the nation, because they are very involved.”

Bishop Michael Bünker, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Austria, said that the people in the lorry may have died “in our midst”, as thousands of people drove past them. It was time, he said, for people to face the urgent reality that refugees and asylum-seekers were “not only in the distant lands of Lampedusa or Kos, but among us”.

Dr Bünker called for a legal route of access for asylum-seekers to Europe. “The lack of a European common approach has fatal consequences for people seeking protection.”

Without this, he said, people-smugglers would continue to profit, and refugees would continue to be in “mortal danger” as they attempted to reach the sanctuary of Europe.

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