[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] One third of the population of Lebanon are refugees from other countries, an Anglican delegation heard this week as they met with the Middle East Council of Churches in Beirut. The meeting came as Anglican members of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC) took advantage of the group’s annual meeting, taking place in the city, to see for themselves how the region was responding to the refugee crisis.
The general secretary of the MECC, Tarek Sater, explained how the region’s churches are working to support internally displaced people (IDPs) within Syria, as well as Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Many refugees from Syria are staying in camps around the region. In Lebanon, most are staying in family homes or centres supported by faith communities and churches.
Many Christian refugees no longer see a future for them in the Middle East and are seeking resettlement in other countries; leading to a “Christian exodus from their historic homelands.” They face what was described as “double discrimination” – the initial discrimination they face as a minority in the region; and the second discrimination in not being eligible for targeted assistance by many Western governments.
The example of the UK government’s approach was discussed: Its Private Sponsorship Scheme does not allow support to be provided to identified and specific groups, such as Christians. Those resettled under the scheme are chosen by the UNHCR from amongst those in its refugee camps. But many Christians, fearing further discrimination, do not stay in the UN camps and so are not eligible for UNHCR resettlement support.
“The Anglican members of AOOIC have touched the edges of two refugee crises on this visit to Lebanon: the Armenian crisis of one hundred years ago, and the Syrian crisis of today,” the Bishop of St Asaph in Wales, Gregory Cameron, a member of the delegation told ACNS. “On both occasions, Lebanon has opened its heart to those who sought her shelter.
“Can we [in the UK], so wealthy in comparative terms, continue to do so little in the face of so much need?”
In addition to Bishop Gregory, the Anglican members of the AOOIC included the Archbishop of Dublin in Ireland, Dr Michael Jackson; the Archdeacon of St Francis in Quebec, Canada, Dr Edward Simonton; and the former Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Geoffrey Rowell.
AOOIC began its meeting on Monday and will conclude on Saturday. It was anticipated to continue their previous discussions on the theological understanding of the Holy Spirit.