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Bishop of Bangor:‘Only a political solution can end refugee crisis’

15 April 2016


Delivering aid: the Rt Revd Andy John and volunteers from North Wales set off for Calais

Delivering aid: the Rt Revd Andy John and volunteers from North Wales set off for Calais

THE Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andy John, has said that only a “robust” political solution can end the refugee crisis, and that humanitarian aid in the camps, although necessary, is “perpetuating the problem” because refugees are not motivated to return home.

“There needs to be a humanitarian effort and a political solution; we can’t content ourselves with recycling goodness to these needy people,” he said, on Sunday.

“We need some way of resolving the fact that people flee for their lives in Syria, and Iraq. We need to make it bearable and habitable there. Only the politicians can take responsibility for that, and it’s a big ask.”

Bishop John was speaking on a visit to the camps around Calais and Dunkirk with a multifaith group of volunteers from North Wales. The group helped to distribute food, clothes, and toiletries to the 5000 refugees remaining in the Calais camp, which was largely dismantled last month (News, 4 March).

On Sunday, they joined Eritrean and Ethiopian Christians for a service in their makeshift church, one of the few buildings remaining in the camp, which Bishop John described as a “sign of hope in a desolate wilderness”.

He later met a group of men from Afghanistan who worked with the United States government in Afghanistan but were targeted when US troops left. “They were very angry, they thought we were tourists,” he said. “You run the risk of voyeurism, moving on without anything changing.”

On his return, on Tuesday, he said that solutions to border control and asylum requests must be agreed by world leaders to avoid “perpetual sub-societies” in the camps.

He went on: “There is a real tension between the hugely valiant humanitarian effort by volunteers working in warehouses to make sure there is food and clothing, which makes the prospect of staying much more attractive, and what the politicians want.”

On Tuesday, 13 aid agencies, including CAFOD and Christian Aid, published a report, A Safe Haven, that accuses the UK of “turning a blind eye” to the suffering of refugees on its doorstep. It suggests that all governments take action to improve their response to the crisis.

Bishop John said that the Church in Wales is raising £4000 for a caravan for Calais, and lobbying to take on a higher proportion of refugees.

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, is also keen to further the Churches’ work with migrants and refugees in the camps around the French coast, and in Kent. To do so, the diocese of Canterbury has created a new post, funded by parishioners through the Bishop’s Advent Justice Appeal, to support and work with refugees in Kent.

The refugee projects officer will help develop relationships between the diocese and refugee organisations, source volunteers, and provide hospitality and training to refugees.

The position, which is being advertised this week on the diocesan website, has been created in partnership with Migrant Help and Kent Refugee Action Network. “It became increasingly clear that we needed to move beyond our initial acts of compassion, and do something more sustained,” Bishop Willmott said.

Meanwhile, the Christian Broadcaster Trans World Radio has created an app for refugees to bring them messages of hope and comfort. Refugee Bridge is the first step in a project that will enables refugees to access high-quality audio in Arabic for download to a smartphone.

The content is designed to “provide comfort and hope by addressing the spiritual and psychological needs of refugees,” beginning with content developed for war-torn areas of Syria and Lebanon. The second step will be to create programmes and videos in a variety of languages for refugees entering Europe, beginning with Farsi.

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