THE Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, has said that he is “optimistic” about the political landscape of Europe, and does not believe that its countries will fragment as he had previously feared — with the exception of the UK.
“A year ago, it looked like populism would sweep the board in Europe, or that there was a risk of its doing so; but now the far Right has failed to gain government in the Netherlands, France, and Austria,” he said this week. “So, with the exception of Brexit in the UK, I do not think that the other European countries are going to fragment in the way that we feared.
“I have made no secret of the fact that I voted Remain, as did all the bishops that I know; so I feel very sad about that decision.”
Dr Innes was speaking after a visit to Serbia with his wife, Helen, at the invitation of the British Ambassador to Serbia, Denis Keefe, last month. The couple travelled to a refugee camp on the border with Croatia, where Christian Aid is providing shelter, food, and language tuition. The charity will celebrate 60 years next week.
“The conditions were much better than the camps I had seen in Greece,” Dr Innes said. “It was encouraging to see European Union funding, and funding from capital-relief services and Christian Aid, making for a decent living environment. There were lots of children, and the teachers were enthusiastic. It takes a talented teacher to mediate between first languages of Farsi or Arabic, and Serbian and English.”PAThen there were 11: a mural, said to be by Banksy, which appeared near the ferry terminal in Dover, on Sunday
But its inhabitants did not want to settle in Serbia, he said. Many had travelled from as far as Afghanistan, but were now stranded, unable to cross the border, which was closed in March last year to ease the flow of refugees from the war in Syria and Iraq along the Balkans route (News, 20 January). “This is frustrating for them. They have travelled such a long way, and now they are prevented from completing the final lap of the journey.”
Through its partner in Serbia, Philanthropy, Christian Aid is renovating an exercise gym, attached to the village school, which is to be used by both child refugees in the camp and villagers, to aid integration.
“People living in the camp are having to get used to the fact that they are going to be there much longer than they would have liked,” Dr Innes said. “This means that they are going to have to start integrating with the villagers; so it is very important that the camp residents find ways of getting along together.”
Christians had a part to play in rebuilding the relationship between the UK and Serbia, which had been forged during the World Wars, and “bruised and damaged” in the 1990s, he said. This could be achieved by encouraging high-level meetings — for example, between the Patriarch of Serbia and the Archbishop of Canterbury — but also by “appreciating the spiritual riches of Serbia, and the immense suffering that the Serbian people have endured over many centuries”.
Dr Innes met the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej, and travelled to monasteries in the south of the country. While similar pilgrimages might be unrealistic for Christians in the UK, there were Serbian communities at home with whom Christians could make friends and offer hospitality, he said.
To support Christian Aid Week (14-20 May), donate online at www.caweek.org; or phone 08080 006 006; or text ‘GIVE’ to 70040 to give £5.