Photo Credit: Leah Gordon / USPG
The Church of England’s Diocese in Europe, supported by the Anglican mission agency USPG, is actively involved in supporting refugees who are arriving in Europe from Syria, Afghanistan and other trouble-spots. Father Malcolm Bradshaw is the senior Anglican chaplain in Athens and last weekend spoke at the Greenbelt Christian arts festival about the work of the Church in Greece. USPG’s Mike Brooks was there and sent this report for ACNS.
The influx of refugees into Europe is a consequence of the world’s unjust economic structures – and also an “incredible” opportunity for European churches to reach out with “genuine, sincere healing hospitality.”
These are the words of Fr Malcolm Bradshaw, the Senior Anglican Chaplain in Athens, who was speaking at last weekend’s Greenbelt Festival about his experience of working alongside refugees in Greece.
Fr Malcolm explained: “We don’t talk too much about the judgement of God in our churches, but our god is a god of justice – and in the biblical narrative he sides with the poor. So when we in the west benefit from economic structures and the rest of the world doesn’t, do we believe God is satisfied? And are we not therefore under judgement?”
Fr Malcolm described how the complex situations in the Syria and the surrounding regions was largely a result of western economics and politics – and now the flood of refugees from war zones is a judgement on Europe for causing such chaos.
He said: “In western Europe and the United States, we can need to begin to discern we are under the judgement of God, and part of that judgement is the refugee, the neighbour, in our midst. Now we are called to respond.”
Fr Malcolm said God’s judgement was always an opportunity for creativity and an opportunity for something new and richer to emerge.
“This is where the excitement lies: opening ourselves up to new skills and different worldviews – hearing the refugees and listening. God is telling us to move beyond our nationalism and ethnic identity.
“There is an opportunity for us to offer genuine and sincere healing hospitality. We have got the means. Have we got the will? This is where the churches in Europe have an incredible role to play.”
Life in the refugee camps
Meanwhile, the Anglican Church in Athens, supported by the Anglican mission agency USPG, is working with local faith-based organisations and aid agencies to reach out to the refugees in the camps.
Fr Malcolm said this is challenging work because the diversity of cultural groups living side by side in the camps has created a “tinderbox” situation that can flare up into trouble at any time.
He explained that many refugees arrived in Greece expecting to stay for a few days before moving to new homes throughout Europe. Instead, thousands have found themselves living as long-term residents in refugee camps where it is a struggle to feed their families and get hold of basic necessities to survive.
Fr Malcolm said: “We have in these camps a rare diversity of cultural and religious backgrounds, so there is a constant vying for status and pecking order. There are different cultural prejudices and understandings, so one of the issues is the long-term group dynamics within these camps. It is like a tinderbox – get it wrong and the whole thing could blow up.”
Under current international agreements – specifically the EU-Turkey deal – refugees will be taken back to Turkey unless they are able to prove that they are vulnerable so they can be certified as an asylum seeker under Greek law.
In these circumstances, when a person from one cultural group is given asylum status, this can trigger a violent reaction from another group who has not received this status.
Fr Malcolm said: “When decisions are made as part of the asylum process, the whole tinderbox is set to flare up.”
It is in this context that the Anglican Church and their ecumenical partners are reaching out to refugees in the camps with medical support, nutritious meals, legal advice and support for vulnerable children.