Refugee crisis: churches and governments share responsibility

[Anglican Communion News Service] There is a need for “urgent action to strengthen coordination and cooperation in Europe’s response to the refugee and migrant crisis,” a high level conference of governments, UN agencies, churches and civil society organisations heard this week. The conference, in Geneva, was organised by the World Council of Churches and focused on ways to strengthen coordinated responses to the crisis.

The German home affairs minister, Dr Thomas de Maizière, told the conference that churches have a shared responsibility with governments to tackling the problem. “Managing the global refugee crisis is not the task of government policy-makers alone,” Dr de Maizière said. “Nor is it only the task of the governments in the European countries receiving refugees.

“The extraordinary political, social and humanitarian challenges raised by the refugee crisis clearly show that government, civil society, businesses and also churches all have a shared responsibility.”

He said that the world’s major conflicts and crises were now affecting Europe “directly and immediately” in a way that they didn’t in the past. And refugees were coming not only from Syria but also from people fleeing Libya, Mali, Yemen, South Sudan, and Eritrea, among others.

More people had sought Asylum in German in the 11 months to November 2015 than in the previous three years combined, he said.

“Everywhere in Europe, government and society are facing a serious dilemma. The countries of Europe do not have unlimited resources to take on the seemingly unlimited need and despair in many parts of the world, especially Africa and the Middle East. Europe’s capacity to take in and integrate refugees and migrants is limited.

“At least if we want to have a certain standard. Even though we as Christians would like to help every person in need, we know that we cannot offer unlimited charity – at least in the form of taking in everyone seeking protection here – without sacrificing ourselves and our society.

“We are faced with difficult equations between competing values, interests and duties. And we all act within different spheres and levels of responsibility. We must live with this dilemma and try to make ethical, balanced decisions which are fair both to our citizens and to those in need.”

This week’s conference focussed on commitments to strengthen coordinated responses to the crisis, including the implementation of migration and integration policies, and the creation of adequate mechanisms for orderly and safe refugee and migrant movements across Europe.

“While the majority of refugees and migrants have fled countries gripped by conflict, violence, persecution and hardship, the responses of European governments have varied from compassionate and generous hospitality, to resumption of border controls, pushback, and the raising of fences,” a spokesperson for the WCC said.

“The European countries and people must live up to their humanitarian values and standards reflected in commitments to international conventions,” the general secretary of the WCC, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said. “This must be evident in a crisis for so many refugees that are coming to Europe or who are already in Europe.”

“To be human is to have the ability to hope. Faith in God is a hope that the present reality can change to something better, change through actions of love. The refugees themselves need that we provide them signs of hope.”

UNICEF’s special coordinator for the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, Marie-Pierre Poirier, said that “the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe is a children’s crisis. Of the one million people who crossed the Mediterranean last year, more than one in four was a child; since September, in south-eastern Europe, this proportion has risen to one in three.

“Faith-based organizations are critical partners to governments and to UN agencies, such as UNICEF, in the response to the crisis in countries of origin, countries where people are on the move, and countries of destination. We must protect children as they arrive in Europe, working together to make our societies inclusive. This call to action for shared responsibility and coordinated action is both timely and essential.”

Closing the conference, the moderator of the WCC’s central committee, Dr Agnes Abuom from the Anglican Church of Kenya, described the crisis as “a litmus test of the European values of solidarity”

The delegates, she said, had “heard about some of the good practices, the need to restore hope, the need to be there in solidarity with the people on the move” and the need for lots of “coordination efforts at the grassroots level . . . both interfaith, faith-based [and] multi-sectoral.”

But she said that “we require a lot more to be done” and spoke of the need for “governments to take responsibility, to be compliant, to exercise shared responsibility [and] to collaborate.” Specifically, she wanted governments to ensure that migration was not seen as “a problem [but] a potential for each of our societies.”

She concluded: “You and I will be held accountable for what we do to that child, to that women, to that young man and young woman, in resettling them, in making it possible for them to find meaning in life. May God bless us and may we continue in our little ways, in our small ways to build on what is already ongoing.”

  • Click here for more information on the WCC website.

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