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Churches continue to offer aid in Europe's refugee crisis

Posted on: September 11, 2015 10:24 AM
Local church organizations are supporting refugees in Hungary
Photo Credit: Daniel Fekete/ Hungarian Interchurch Aid / ACT Alliance / WCC

[ACNS] The Diocese in Europe, part of the Church of England, has launched an emergency appeal through the Anglican mission agency Us (formerly USPG) to help fund its work with the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The funds will initially be directed to the diocese’s work in Greece and Hungary which has seen the largest transit of asylum seekers.

“The need for healthcare is particularly acute,” the mission agency said. “Many refugees, including the elderly and children, are arriving in need of urgent medical care, but Greece's overstretched public resources, and a lack of medicines in the country, mean many refugees are going untreated.”

The Diocese in Europe is “meeting refugees on Europe’s frontline with both compassion and much needed tangible support,” the Us chief executive, Janette O'Neill, said. “We want to play our part in helping equip them with the essentials that will signal to the refugees that their journey has turned a corner and safety and respite from war in sight.”

The appeal comes as the World Council of Churches joins with the Conference of European Churches and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe to urge churches throughout Europe to “deepen their efforts in receiving, supporting and protecting refugees who arrive in the region.”

In a joint letter made public by the three organisations, they say that “In this critical moment, ecumenical cooperation in the response is especially important, in order to enhance the collective impact of our various activities, to encourage others and to give a common witness of compassion, justice and peace,” reads the letter that was made public by the ecumenical organizations on 10 September 2015.

They say that 300,000 refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea last month. More than 100,000 of them arrived in Italy; while another 200,000 arrived in Europe through the Greek islands. The UNHCR say that an estimated 2,500 refugees are thought to have died this year alone attempting to reach sanctuary in Europe.

“We advocate for a Common European Asylum System including decent reception conditions as well as a Common European Resettlement Scheme that puts the human being and his/her dignity at the centre of the processes,” the three organisations say in their letter. “We urge the European governments to take responsibility in particular for the situation of minors, the most vulnerable group, who are often deprived of basic stability, a full family life and education.”

The Archbishop of Melbourne, the Most Revd Philip Freier, Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, has congratulated the Australian government’s decision to allow an additional 12,000 Syrian refugees into the country, above and beyond the expected humanitarian intake.

“Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s change of mind from last week is surprising but welcome, and shows how the plight of the Syrian refugees has touched Australians,” Archbishop Freier said. “I also welcome the decision to focus on persecuted religious and ethnic minorities, because their position will remain desperate no matter which side has the advantage in Syria’s civil war.

“I am confident there will be strong community approval at this decision, and that Anglican parishes around the country will do all they can to help refugees and smooth their path.”

In England, a number of dioceses and churches are offering vacant vicarages and other buildings to house refugees, including York Minister, which is making one of its vacant properties available to accommodate a refugee family. "York has a long history of offering sanctuary, and I would welcome the chance to convene a meeting so we can respond to this crisis as a city and commit to welcoming some families," the Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, told the Church Times.

The diocese of Chelmsford is also offering a number of empty properties to the relief effort. “We can’t ask people to do something we’re not offering to do ourselves,” the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, told Premier Christian Radio. “We’ve been looking at what empty houses we have, and starting a journey we hope others will follow. Many say: ‘We haven’t got room, we haven’t got space, we can’t do it;’ but I think we can.”