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Churches in Belgium unite to help Syrian asylum-seekers

02 February 2018


People participate in a human chain to protest about Belgian police action to arrest and deport migrants who live in Parc Maximilien, in Brussels, last week

People participate in a human chain to protest about Belgian police action to arrest and deport migrants who live in Parc Maximilien, in Brussels, las...

THE Anglican Church in Belgium has joined other religious groups in the country to support and fund visas for 150 asylum-seekers from Syria.

With the help of the Christian charity Sant’Egidio, the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox Churches, together with Judaism and Islam, have come together to raise money for the initiative, under which two sponsored families have already arrived in Europe.

The president of the Central Committee of the Anglican Church in Belgium, Canon Jack McDonald, said last week: “Occasionally, miracles happen.”

On 22 November last year, the group signed an agreement to fund 150 visas and support the asylum-seekers once they came to Belgium. This plan was supported by the government.

Canon McDonald said that this endorsement came from the immigration minister, Theo Francken, even though his New Flemish Alliance party was not known for its “cosy and warm approach to immigration”.

He said this makes the programme all the more remarkable. It will help 150 refugees who are in the “most dire” situations “to have their lives rebuilt in Belgium. It is a good concrete project of absolute worth. We are doing it together through religious solidarity, and I am delighted.”

Anglicans in Belgium has raised enough money to support four asylum-seekers, possibly a family, of the total 150 who will come to Belgium. The 10 parishes have raised €17,000 to pay for visas and then care for the family for a year when they arrive.

Canon McDonald said that he had “been really encouraged by smaller, poorer parishes such as Liège, where there’s a large Nigerian and Ghanaian congregation”.

He said that the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, had been an “absolute brick in terms of support. He has given it his all.”

Congregations have been a “bit febrile post-Brexit”, he continued; so the project has “brought people together”.

The Syrian refugees will be chosen by the charity, from camps in Turkey and Lebanon. They will arrive on a humanitarian visa.

Canon McDonald said that the religious groups are “leaning on” Sant’Egidio, which is “seasoned and experienced”. “They will be selecting people in the worst situations — those who are handicapped, in danger of death, or are in medical need: people who would have no chance otherwise.”

Refugees will not be chosen or allocated based on their religion.

The UNHCR reports that there are currently 5.5 million Syrian refugees: the largest refugee group from a single country. Between April 2011 and October 2017, 996,204 Syrians made asylum applications in European Union countries. Of these, the most, 518,326, were to Germany. Belgium took in 19,384 asylum-seekers in the same period.

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