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German church statement offers guidance on humane approach to migration and asylum

29 October 2021


German police with a group of new arrivals from across the Polish border last week

German police with a group of new arrivals from across the Polish border last week

ROMAN Catholics and Protestants in Germany have put out a joint statement on migration and refugee issues in an effort to create common guidelines for action in the light of theological reflection and church experience.

The German Bishops’ Conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) issued the 215-page document, Migration menschenwürdig gestalten (Shaping migration humanely”), as a new stream of refugees was arriving in Germany via Belarus and Poland.

The chairman of the EKD’s council, the Lutheran Bishop of Bavaria, Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, told a press conference on Thursday of last week: “For more than 82 million people currently on the move worldwide, it is a matter of bare survival.”

He focused on the current European refugee policy: “The fact that the dignity and rights of refugees are being disregarded and violated in so many places around the world, including at the external borders of the EU, is scandalous and deeply shameful. That is why we strongly advocate for a European refugee policy that is guided by human rights.”

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and an increase in refugees arriving in Germany via Belarus have almost doubled new arrivals in Berlin alone this year. The city, barely an hour from the Polish border, is, like other federal states bordering Poland, creating additional space for asylum-seekers. Five shelters, providing a total of 1200 places, are being opened. Among them are two container villages, built during the influx of Syrian refugees in 2015-16, which are being reactivated.

The Roman Catholic theologian Professor Marianne Heimbach-Steins, of the University of Münster, and a member of the ecumenical working group that prepared the migration statement, advocated a fundamental change of perspective. “From an ethical perspective, the goal of migration policy is not to prevent migration, but to overcome the causes of involuntary migration driven by violence or need.”

Dr Hannes Schammann, Professor of Migration Policy at Hildesheim University and a member of the ecumenical working group of 16, emphasised that the text was written at a time when an erosion of multilateralism could be observed in Europe and worldwide: “Today, we in the EU are moving away from such a common approach, which has to be more than just arming the external borders. If looking at preventing migration is the only thing holding the EU together, the EU will have no future as a community of common values.”

At the press conference, the vice-chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, the Bishop of Osnabrück, the Rt Revd Franz-Josef Bode, emphasised that, with this document, the Churches were sending a clear signal about social cohesion.

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