Anglicans to support reception centre for refugees on Greek island, Lesvos
The Diocese in Europe and the Anglican mission agency Us (formerly USPG) are to give funding to an emergency centre for refugees at the remote Pharos Lighthouse on the Greek island of Lesvos.
The refugees arrive cold and wet, having crossed 15 kilometres from Turkey, typically making the journey in small rubber boats crowded with up to 50 people in each.
Many make this dangerous crossing at night to avoid the Turkish coastguards that patrol during the day.
They come mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, having fled conflict, chaos and persecution in those countries.
Attracted by the lighthouse beam, the refugees that land on the rocky shore are soaked through, tired and hungry. Yet they are still six kilometres from the nearest village, Klio, which is a minimum six-hour walk across often-difficult terrain.
It is therefore essential for the health of the refugees that they have dry clothes, food and, in many cases, medical care and shelter before they continue their journey to safety, preferably with a volunteer to act as a guide.
The Republic of Ireland has pledged to receive at least 4,000 refugees from Syria, while the UK has said it will accept, over the next five years, 20,000. In this week’s Gazette, we report on how the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, told last week’s English General Synod that the figure of 20,000 could be “comfortably exceeded” (report, page 8).
Against this background, Stormont’s First and Deputy First Ministers announced at the end of last week that 11 refugee families (in total, 51 people) would be arriving in Northern Ireland on 15th December. It was indicated that half of those due to arrive are under 16 years of age.
Mr Robinson said that both he and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness deplored a group’s intentions in planning a rally in Belfast ahead of the arrival of the first group of refugees and opposing their resettlement in Northern Ireland. The group calls itself the ‘Protestant Coalition’ and emerged in connection with flag protests. It has to be said very clearly that it is nothing less than an affront to Protestants in general that such a fringe group should pose as in any way representing Protestantism and that it should seek, in the name of Protestantism, to stop refugees coming to Northern Ireland.
The fact of the matter is that the refugees are fleeing a war-torn country in which there is unimaginable violence and brutality. Welcoming the stranger is a fundamental Christian value and it is only humane that both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland should play their parts in making provision for their resettlement. As Mr Robinson said: “When the public get some sight of the refugees that are coming to Northern Ireland, they will see how wrong-headed it would be to do anything other than provide support and comfort to these people. They are people who have gone through the most traumatic of times in the land of their birth.” Mr McGuinness commented that people had a responsibility to offer compassion and sympathy and joined with the First Minister in “utterly condemning those racists who have organised a protest rally in Belfast against the arrival of these poor people”.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has indicated that, so far this year, over 800,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea and land and another 15 million have been forced to flee across the Middle East, pointing out: “As refugee families continue to flee war and persecution at staggering rates, a bitter winter is fast approaching. For many Syrian families this will be the fifth winter bringing further misery for families already struggling to survive in incredibly harsh conditions, with many lacking basic winter household items.”
Christian Aid states that half the population of Syria has become displaced, over four million people have become refugees, and over 200,000 people have been killed, and Tearfund has described the war in Syria as “a tragedy of colossal proportions producing a scale of human suffering almost impossible to comprehend”.
Such facts and statements place the efforts of the ill- named ‘Protestant Coalition’ in their proper perspective. The protest scheduled for Saturday (5th December) should be abandoned and those involved should show nothing other than kindness towards the arriving Syrian people who are in real need. They should also bear in mind that in the course of history, time and again, refugees have been shown truly to enrich the societies in which they have resettled. The only Christian response – and therefore the only Protestant response – to human need is to act with compassion and care.
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