[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The priest on the front line of the Anglican church’s work with refugees in Europe has told a consultation in Cologne how he first became involved in this aspect of his ministry. “I was going to do the Wednesday service at St Paul’s Church and passed through the central square in Athens,” the city’s Anglican chaplain, the Revd Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, said. “To my surprise I saw an encampment of 200 Syrians.” After taking the service, he said, “I walked back and wondered through the encampment and began to speak to them; and this was the first sight of this great movement of refugees into Europe.”
Later, when the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, made a parish visit to Athens, they visited one of the detention centres in Athens. “We were both deeply surprised and shocked at what we found,” he said.
Later, he was to hear that three refugees died at the detention centre in one of the coldest weeks of the year. “These people had died simply as a result of the lack of facilities,” Canon Bradshaw said. The Anglican chaplaincy was asked to help and he broadcast a message to the English-speaking community in the city asking for clothes, telephone cards, shoes, and whatever else could be delivered to the centre. . .
“Suddenly, from chaplaincies throughout Europe and churches within the UK and private donations began to flood in our way,” he said. “There was a little bit of a crisis in diocesan house as to how to manage this. As a result we linked up with USPG and we became partners in facing the refugee crisis and how to administer the money.” He said that it was not a job for “bumbling do-gooders.”
In the early days they looked for ways to support migrants that were just passing through Greece. . . “These were just a transient people who were just passing through the country with no intention of staying in Greece,” he said. But with international borders beginning to close in February, “we were into a very different game with refugees absolutely stranded.”
There are now 600,000 such refugees in the country.
Canon Bradshaw was presented with an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) – one of the UK’s civil honours – by the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, at Buckingham Palace in June for his work on the refugee crisis. His story was just one of a number of experiences shared at a Diocese in Europe consultation on the refugee crisis jointly organised by diocese with the Anglican Alliance and USPG at the Kardinal Schulte Haus in Cologne, Germany.
In addition to Anglicans from the Diocese in Europe, the consultation is hearing from members of the US-based Episcopal Church, the Church in Wales, the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East’s Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, and the Church of England’s Diocese of Canterbury. Other participants include representatives from the Roman Catholic Community of Sant’Egidio, the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Lutheran World Federation, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, the UNHCR, and the Church Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME).
While most of the participants are from, or work in, Europe, they were left in no doubt that the world is facing a global refugee crisis.
“This is not a European refugee crisis,” the CCME general secretary, Doris Peschke, said. “Everyone talks about the European refugee crisis, but this is a global refugee crisis. We have 65 million displaced persons. It is the biggest number since this has been counted.
“It is a huge number of displaced persons who can no longer go to the place that they used to belong and where they had lived for many years. Out of these, some 21 million – one-third, approximately – are international refugees. Two-thirds are inside their countries.
“That means inside Syria, inside Iraq, inside Afghanistan, inside Ukraine – a country we don’t talk about so much because most of the Ukrainians outside the country are not considered [to be] refugees yet.”
She said that while governments around the world had increased funding to the UNHCR, they had not done so to the amount necessary to deal with the crisis.
The consultation hosted by the Diocese in Europe will conclude later.
- The Anglican Alliance is hosting a free online Webinar on the migration crisis and the role played by churches with a panel from the consultation. The event will take place at 11 am CET (9 am GMT) tomorrow (Thursday). You can register to take part by clicking here.