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Regard refugees as a blessing, say faith leaders

06 November 2015


Rescued: a lifeguard carries a baby to safety after a catamaran carrying about 150 refugees, most of them Syrian, partially sank near the Greek island of Lesbos, last Friday

Rescued: a lifeguard carries a baby to safety after a catamaran carrying about 150 refugees, most of them Syrian, partially sank near the Greek island...

FEAR must play no part in the response to the refugee crisis facing Europe, world faith leaders have warned. They called on communities to see refugees as a blessing, and for governments not to be influenced in their response by their own political ambitions.

Christians from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa came together with the World Council of Churches to consult on the crisis, and issued a communiqué calling for safe passage for those heading to Europe for sanctuary.

The church leaders urged political leaders to “acknowledge that persistent, consistent long-term efforts are needed”, and to “refrain from any exploitation of this human crisis for political ambition or benefit”. They also urged politicians “not to let fears shape their policy”.

The leaders asked for extra assistance to be given to “those regions which are receiving the majority of refugees, such as Greece, Italy, and other countries of transit”.

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Anba Angaelos, attended the talks. He said: “We are not only witnessing the immense displacement of vulnerable people fleeing war-torn countries, but a dehumanisation, and a loss of dignity of those people. . . We need to look with a new heart, to encourage our states and governments, and all who make decisions, to look at these people as more than mere statistics.”

The Suffragan Bishop in the diocese in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, was one of 35 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic leaders who attended the consultation, representing Churches in the most-affected regions.

The diocese in Europe, in partnership with the charity Us., is funding a ministry to refugees who land at the Pharos Lighthouse on the Greek island of Lesbos, which is miles from the nearest village.

Refugees arriving after crossing the sea in small boats from Turkey, are in need of food, shelter, and medical support. Two abandoned buildings next to the lighthouse are being renovated to provide a centre, and volunteers will man it round the clock, seven days a week.

Bishop Hamid said: “The Anglican Church in Greece is joining hands with Us. to serve those who are fleeing wars and persecution, and who risk their lives in desperation to reach Europe in what many have called ‘the death boats’.

“This project places our Church on the front line, where so many have already died through drowning, and seeks to bring a level of human dignity to our brothers and sisters who are seeking refuge and safety.”

A seven-day prayer-guide for churches and individuals to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis has been produced this week by the mission agency Serving in Mission UK.

Its UK director, Steve Smith, said: “UK and Irish churches want to take action to serve the needs of refugees in camps and other places along migration routes. Away from the media headlines, churches across Europe have a key part to play in loving their neighbourhood refugees during the approaching winter.”


Camps shunned as unsafe


REFUGEES from minority religious communities are avoiding the refugee camps around Syria for fear of attack, and so will miss being included in the UK’s scheme to take 20,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from camps, a parliamentary group has warned.

The group has called on the Government to widen immediately its definition of who is most vulnerable, in order to include people from minority religious communities.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief has given evidence to the International Development Select Committee. It said that it had heard from charities and religious groups that refugees from Syrian Christian, Sunni Kurd, Shiite, Alevi, Alawite, Druze, and Yazidi communities were avoiding the main camps.

The charity Open Doors UK was quoted by the group as saying that reasons given by refugees for avoiding the camps ranged from “fear of discrimination and further persecution to an attempt to hold on to the last shreds of dignity by renting an apartment, despite the unaffordability”.

The group, led by the MP Jim Shannon and Baroness Berridge, urged the Government to include in its definition of who is vulnerable people who have left their homeland owing to religious identity or beliefs.

They also want the Government to extend the scheme to vulnerable refugees from other nations, including Iraq.

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