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More than 2,000 people killed or missing in seaborne European migration attempts

Posted on: December 7, 2018 3:51 PM
Representatives from CEC and CCME present an ecumenical Christmas Statement to First Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness, affirming “the values of dignity, respect and compassion for refugees and migrants”.
Photo Credit: Naveen Qayyum / CEC

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the UN-backed inter-governmental agency, has said that some 2,133 people seeking asylum have been killed or gone missing this year while trying to reach Europe by sea. The organisation said that in the period to 28 November, some 107,583 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea this year – the fifth successive year in which the arrival of irregular migrants and refugees had topped 100,000; but down on the figures by the same date in both 2017 and 2016for the same period.

The Mediterranean Sea crossings from north Africa and the Middle East to Europe account for two thirds of the total number of migrants and asylum seekers killed or missing across teh road this year – some 3,341 people. But the IOM warn that comparisons are hindered by incomplete data gathering in some regions. This year’s figure for the number killed or missing in the Mediterranean is considerably less than last year’s total of 3,113. But numbers are increasing and November was the deadliest month, with four shipwrecks documented by IOMs teams in the area.

On 5 November, there were two shipwrecks in which 54 people lost their lives: 31 people drowned in waters near the Spanish enclave of Melilla, while 23 others died in a shipwreck off the coast of Cádiz. On 22 November, 13 people went missing and the remains of a woman, who was pregnant when she died, were recovered from a sinking boat off the coast of Almería. A few days later, 29 people drowned off the coast of Nador, Morocco. In addition to these incidents, the bodies of 17 people were recovered from different locations throughout the month. On 29 November Spanish authorities rescued 56 people in a boat in the Alboran Sea, recoving the body of a woman in the process; and three people drowned in the Western Mediterranean.

The Church of England’s Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, who also serves as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the European Institutions, and the Bishop of Loughborough, Guli Francis-Dehqani, who is also a Vice President of the Conference of European Churches ecumenical group, this week joined more than 30 leaders from a diverse group of churches, including Orthodox, Baptist, and Methodist churches, as well as ecumenical groups and Christian world communions, in signing a joint Christmas Statement to the European Union, affirming “the values of dignity, respect and compassion for refugees and migrants.”

The Christmas Statement was jointly issued by the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC). It was presented this week in Brussels to Mairead McGuinness, First Vice-President of the European Parliament.

“This statement is timely, challenging and is really worth reading”, Mairead McGuinness said after the hand-over. “It calls upon all of us who have strong shoulders to bear greater weight than those who have less strong shoulders. It reminds us that everyone has a responsibility and that we need to care and if we don’t care at Christmas time than what is the best time to care for those less fortunate.”

In the statement, the Church leaders commit “to more fervently articulating and working towards our vision of an inclusive and participatory society – for newly arrived and all inhabitants.”

Offering theological reflection on the story of Christmas and displacement, the statement subthemes read: “Jesus became human”, “Jesus the refugee”, and “Jesus the stranger”. It features a Christian approach to action and policy in church and society arguing for safe passage to protection and realistic labour migration policies in Europe. The Church leaders also stress the need for solidarity as a guiding principle for governing migration and refugee reception.

“While drafting the statement and collecting signatures we recognised how broad the consensus is on this topic among churches”, CCME General Secretary Torsten Moritz, said. “This, I see as sign of hope, just before Christmas, in the normally very bitter and controversial debate on this topic.”

The CEC President, pastor and theologian Christian Krieger from the Reformed Protestant Church of Alsace and Lorraine, said: “This declaration signed by many Christian authorities in Europe points out the plight of those currently on the roads of exile and knocking at Europe’s doors. We address this call to peoples and nations in Europe, to political leaders and the churches.”

The European refugee crisis is attracting the attention of Anglicans around the world. In Australia, Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral is displaying a Christmas Tree made from the lifejackets of Syrian children, as a festive reminder of the plight of refugees the world over.

The 12-ft sculpture, Not a creature was stirring, was made by Archibald prize-winning and finalist artists Ben Quilty and Mirra Whale from hundreds of child-sized lifejackets abandoned on the beaches of Lesbos, Greece. It will remain at the cathedral until February 2019.

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A Christmas Tree sculpture made from the lifejackets of Syrian children by artists Ben Quilty and Mirra Whale is on display in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne until February 2019.
Photo: Jacqui Shelton / The Melbourne Anglican

“The hi-vis Christmas tree at the entrance of our Cathedral is a reminder that Jesus and his family became refugees almost immediately after his birth,” the Dean of Melbourne, Dr Andreas Loewe, said. “It is an invitation to us to open our hearts to help people displaced by war and conflict.”

  • Click here to read the ecumenical Christmas Statement.

  • Click here to read more about the Melbourne Christmas Tree sculpture.