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Anglicans at forefront of global refugee crisis

Posted on: October 11, 2016 3:21 PM
Syrian and Iraqi refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos from Turkey. This picture was taken on 15 October 2015. Since then the European Union and Turkey have agreed a package of measures which will see refugees who make “irregular” arrivals to Greece returned to Turkey. The agreement has reduced, but not stopped the flow of refugees making the dangerous crossing.
Photo Credit: Ggia / Wikimedia

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Anglicans around the world are continuing to serve in the front-line of assisting refugees and asylum seekers through a mixture of advocacy and practical care. The Primate of Australia, Archbishop Philip Freier, will hold a “public conversation” on the issue in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Anglicans from across Europe are gathering today for the start of a consultation on refugee care. And Anglicans around the world are invited to take part in an Anglican Alliance “Webinar” on Thursday.

Archbishop Freier’s public conversation with World Vision’s Australian chief executive officer Tim Costello will take place at the Deakin Edge Theatre in Melbourne at 7.30 am on Wednesday. Hosted by ABC Radio’s John Cleary, the conversation aims to challenge the Australian government’s approach to asylum seekers.

There is a growing unease in the country about the plight of refugees in off-shore detention centres and a sense that changes are urgently needed. A retired Australian army officer, turned author, Major General Jim Molan told ABC’s Q&A programme yesterday (Monday) that tough border security is “the new normal” around the globe, and those who want a more generous approach to refugees will “just have to get used to it”.

Archbishop Freier wants to challenge this thinking, arguing that governments can control their sovereign border without seeking to deter asylum-seekers “by calculated cruelty to refugees in off-shore detention”

Meanwhile, the Anglican Alliance is joining forces with the Anglican mission agency USPG and the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe to stage a consultation on the refugee crisis in Europe.

Clergy, officials and activists from across Europe – and some from further afield – are gathering at a Catholic conference centre in the German city Cologne to discuss the crisis. They will explain the current and projected situation of refugees and migrants in their own countries; and share successes and challenges of the church’s local response.

“The aim is to equip, encourage and deepen their engagement by understanding how chaplaincies and churches can effectively and appropriately respond in the evolving situation,” a spokesperson for the organisers said.

The consultation is being supported by the Weidenfeld Fund, which was established by the late Jewish philanthropist Lord George Weidenfeld to resettle Christians at risk to places of safety. He created the fund as a personal response to the activities of Daesh, saying that the persecution of Christians in the Middle East at their hands was an outrage which the world must respond to.

On Thursday (13 October) at 11 am CET (9 am GMT), the Anglican Alliance will stage an online briefing, or Webinar, to share the findings of the consultation with others. You can access the Webinar, “Refugees in Europe – How can the Church help us?” by clicking here.

The interactive online briefing will include an opportunity to ask questions and share your thoughts on the refugee crisis and how the Church can best respond with experts from churches in Europe and the US, including Including Allison Duvall, program manager for church relations with Episcopal Migration Ministries, part of the US-based Episcopal Church; Daniella Morales, program and volunteer coordinator with the Joel Nafuma Refugee Centre in Rome; and Janette O’Neill, general secretary and chief executive of USPG.

Europe is just one part of the world that is experiencing the global refugee crisis.

The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, estimates that some 313,872 refugees crossed the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe this year despite the high risk of death – they say that some 3,604 people who attempted to make the crossing this year are dead or missing.

There are currently an unprecedented number of people who have been forced to flee their homes. The UNHCR puts the figure at some 65.3 million people around the world - among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, and more than half of these are under the age of 18.

The UNHCR says that 39 per cent of the world’s displaced people are in the Middle East and North Africa; 29 per cent in the rest of Africa; 14 per cent in Asia and the Pacific; 12 per cent in the Americas and just six per cent in Europe.

Despite this, Europe’s governments continue to argue about how best to respond to the refugee crisis. At the weekend, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that the British government could do more and said that there was no reason why unaccompanied children living in a make-shift refugee camp known as the Jungle in Calais, France, could not be re-united with family members already living in the UK.

Elsewhere, the UNHCR says that “the brutal conflict in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives and driven well over a million of people from their homes” since December 2013. “While many remain displaced inside the country, more than one million have fled to neighbouring countries in a desperate bid to reach safety.”

In the Central African Republic (CAR), the ousting of President François Bozizé – who was then indicted for crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide – by Seleka rebels in March 2013 plunged “one of the world’s poorest countries” which had already been “troubled by unrest for decades” into what the UNHCR describe as a “crisis.” It has resulted in some 452,000 CAR refugees and an addition 384,000 internally displaced people.

Decades of conflict and violence – culminating in advances by Daesh – has forced “millions of Iraqis . . . to abandon their homes,” the UNHCR said. “Terrified, many fled with just the clothes on their backs. Now, with their limited financial resources exhausted by basic accommodation and food, they are in desperate need of emergency aid.” They say that there are some four million “people of concern” with “3.4 million displaced inside Iraq.”

But it is the ongoing brutal and relentless conflict in Syria that is contributing most to the current crisis. According to the UNHCR, some 4.8 million people have fled Syria since 2011, seeking safety in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and beyond; and an additional estimated 8.7 million people are displaced inside the country as the civil war continues to rage despite efforts to bring about a negotiated ceasefire.

The UNHCR says that it is working hard to help, “leading a coordinated effort across the region.”

You can register for the Anglican Alliance Webinar – which will take place at 11 am CET (9 am GMT) on Thursday – by clicking here.