THE Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) said last week that Europe had “waited too long to act” to resolve the refugee crisis.
In response to a meeting of the Nordic Churches — Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland — to discuss refugees and migration, the CCME wrote that efforts to meet UN quotas “need to be stepped up”.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, told members of the executive committee in Geneva, on Monday, that, in ten years, the number of people displaced by conflict had nearly quadrupled, and had led to a “shrinking humanitarian space”.
The UN Human Rights Council reported that there were currently more than 60 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and internationally displaced persons worldwide — four million of whom have fled the civil war in Syria. This year alone, more than half a million have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe, and 3900 have died in the attempt.
Mr Guterres said that the decision of the European Union to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers in the next five years was a positive step, but “much more is needed”.
“The creation of adequate reception centres near the entry points [is needed], with sufficient capacity to receive, assist, register, and screen tens of thousands of people, together with more legal avenues for those in search of protection, and also for economic migrants to be able to access the European territory,” he said.
On Wednesday, government plans to deport thousands of failed asylum-seekers from Europe within weeks were leaked to The Times. More than 400,000 people who entered the EU in the first half of this year are expected to have their asylum rejected, including applicants from Syria and Afganistan.
The proposals were leaked after the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on Tuesday, at which the Home Secretary, Theresa May, called for a stronger deportation system. Mrs May pledged to reduce the numbers of asylum claimants in Britain, while taking in the “most vulnerable” refugees from war zones around the world.
She was later criticised for unhelpful rhetoric, in particular her use of the term “illegal immigrants”, and saying that she would “get tough” on those who smuggled themselves into the UK and refused to settle in other EU countries.
Recent reports suggest that about 630,000 refugees have entered the EU illegally this year. The chief executive of the EU border-control agency Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, said that the influx of refugees into Europe has not slowed, despite increased international awareness.
Last week, Pope Francis dedicated 17 January next year as a World Day of Migrants and Refugees, on which Christians could pray, reflect, and respond to the humanitarian crisis.
The President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, presented a letter written by the Pope outlining the theme: “Migrants and refugees challenge us: the response of the gospel of mercy”.
“We cannot remain indifferent or in silence when faced with so many tragedies,” the Pope wrote.
In Turkey, about 5000 people a day are said to pack into boats on the western shoreline in an attempt to reach the Greek islands across the Mediterranean. The EU is urging the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to build more camps.
The Priest-in-Charge of St Nicolas’s, Ankara, in Turkey, Canon John Higgins, said on Tuesday that many coastal villages that were “quintessentially Muslim” had been providing fresh bread to the hundreds of refugees congregated on the shoreline.
Canon Higgins said that his church, in the centre of Istanbul, had been providing a “spiritual home” for refugees fleeing countries such as Iran for many years, and that the ministry had been “shared” with the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches near by.
He said that, although churches of Istanbul and Izmir had “not been idle”, there were few who supported and encouraged the Iranian refugees, who were Christian converts, fleeing religious hostility.
In Jordan, reports from the Associated Press suggest that aid cuts are forcing growing numbers of Syrian refugees to return to their homeland. From the refugee camp Zaatari, on the east bank, people were returning to war zones because they were struggling to survive exile, owing to “drastic” aid cuts, or because they were “simply homesick”.
The head of the UN refugee agency in Jordan, Andrew Harper, said that it was “a dangerous choice” for people to make, and that the return to Syria, mainly of women and children, “signals a failure of the international protection regime”.
Last week, the EU approved plans to tighten border controls and send almost £1 billion in funding to refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
At the Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday, however, the Minister of State for International Development, Desmond Swayne, called on the international community to change its funding plans to better resolve the crisis.
Addressing the Christian charity World Vision, Mr Swayne urged countries to “break the business model” of people traffickers.
The chief executive of World Vision in the UK, Tim Pilkington, said in response that a “greater commitment” from political leaders was needed to solve the aftershocks of global conflicts.
He said that a recent study, suggesting that charities and non-government organisations commit up to 80 per cent of funds to the vulnerable in conflict zones, was “very worrying. . . Aid agencies on their own do not have the answers and solutions to the current crisis.”
Asylum-seekers welcome, say bishops
THE Church in Liverpool has been at the “forefront” of welcoming the hundreds of refugees who have entered the city in the past two years, the bishops of the diocese said on Tuesday.
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, and the Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Richard Blackburn, said in a joint statement that Liverpool has been “generous” in providing accommodation, food, shelter, and assistance for those seeking asylum.
“Our cathedral has been particularly active in providing emergency support, while pointing guests on to other agencies that can help with longer term needs. . . We will continue to work to make sure that our churches have the right in-formation on how to welcome and treat refugees.”
The Bishops spoke out after figures from the British Red Cross suggested that more than 1900 asylum-seekers had made their way to Liverpool since December 2013.
Liverpool is one of several cities across the UK to take in asylum-seekers waiting for refugee status. Many are sent from Croydon, where they are screened and officially registered by the Government.
The Government has since promised to extend funding to “assist” host cities with the cost of housing refugees, after successful lobbying from local authorities. The current scheme covers the cost of resettlement over 12 months. The Home Office agreed on Saturday that “additional funding” will be offered to councils beyond one year.
Figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees suggest that most asylum-seekers are given £5.98 per day from governments for food, sanitation, and clothing. In December last year, there were about 153,000 pending asylum cases and stateless persons — those with no confirmed nationality — in the country. The UK is due to take in 20,000 Syrians by 2020.
In Scotland, council leaders have confirmed that the country can provide shelter to at least 2000 Syrians, and refugees expected to arrive in some areas before Christmas. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) said that all 32 councils were willing to respond, although not all will house refugees.
The convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, the Revd Sally Foster-Fulton, said that plans to accommodate and integrate refugees were under way. “Liaison between statutory and voluntary sectors is important, and there is cross-party support and positive engagement from all of Scotland’s local authorities,” she said.
“Glasgow has over 15 years of welcoming asylum-seekers as part of the Home Office’s dispersal policy, and so the experience of church groups at a local level can be shared and built on.”
The community initiative Near Neighbours, which is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government, is one of many helping to settle in refugees around the country.
Near Neighbours was set up by the Church Urban Fund in 2013, to encourage social interaction in multifaith areas, and to form communities that work to improve the neighbourhood.
In Bury, Greater Manchester, the group is welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers with material provisions such as clothing and blankets; and in Bradford, the community is helping newcomers to build up a CV through work experience.
On Sunday morning, the Norwich diocesan Mothers’ Union led a multi-faith service of commitment, and a day of action, urging the council to resettle 50 refugees in the county. The diocesan MU president, Marguerite Phillips, said that the campaign Sanctuary Norfolk 50 would give “valuable practical ways” of “befriending” those in need.
The MU in Halifax has been working with St Augustine’s Centre — a multi-faith support network — through which volunteers commit to support refugee women and children.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said he was “delighted” with the work of the hundreds of Mothers’ Union members across the country who were helping to abate the crisis. He met the Worldwide President of the MU, Lynne Tembey, and its chief executive, Beverley Jullien, at Lambeth Palace last month.
The Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, was joined by MPs, council members, and charities at Derby Cathedral, on Friday, to discuss how the community might pay for the needs of incoming refugees.
The nave was “packed” for talks and workshops. A spokesman said that, as a result, there was “a great deal more clarity” on what the city can contribute.
On Monday the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, launched a dual appeal to support refugees from Syria and victims of flooding in Burma. The diocese of Winchester is calling on people to support the refugee resettlement charity Refugee Action through the fundraising website Just Giving. The charity has been working in the UK for more than 30 years to support those fleeing war-torn homelands. Bishop Dakin said he was “shocked” by the images Syrians risking their lives to escape conflict at home.
The diocese is also appealing for donations to help those affected by the recent floods in Burma that took more than 150 lives and destroyed thousands of homes and livelihoods. Bishop Dakin said the diocese has “close links” with the church in Burma and that the flooding has caused an “urgent humanitarian crisis”.
“This is an opportunity to help those who are fleeing persecution and natural disaster," he said. "I hope everyone will consider donating prayerfully, generously and sacrificially to help these people who are in such desperate need.”