We are in the midst of a forced migration crisis of unprecedented proportions. Up to 6,000 people are arriving in Europe every day as of April 2016. According to the International Organization for Migration, 67,000 people arrived by boat as refugees into Europe in January 2016. There are increasing numbers of children involved.
Many people are dying on sea or in deserts while trying to reach safety. A boat carrying around 500 people capsized in the Mediterranean Sea on April 20th. By April 22nd, over 1,000 people had drowned/died in 2016 as they traveled to safety. Without safe and legal routes, refugees turn to smugglers who have found a lucrative and scandalous illegal trade and make money out of other people’s plight.
Britain is often said to be the number one target for people desperately seeking safety. However, less that 1% of the 60 million uprooted people make their way to Britain. Over 80% of the world’s refugees are in neighboring countries. As of April 2016, Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are the world’s top five hosts of refugees according to the UN. European nations can do more. There is an urgent need for safe and legal routes for refugees to travel as they seek safety.
The situation is complex and requires a complex and united response locally, nationally, and internationally. The work of many British churches and groups shows that we can all do something: Restore in Birmingham, Beacon in Bradford, Embrace in Belfast, and organizations like the Student Christian Movement, which works with initiatives like City of Sanctuary.
Faith communities can play their part to build cultures of welcome, hospitality, sanctuary, and safety for refugees. We can work together in interfaith collaboration, for example, to encourage each Church, Gurdwara, Mandir, Mosque, Synagogue and Vihara to offer sanctuary to one refugee family until they can stand on their own feet. This would challenge our Government to show a more realistic and compassionate response.
We all have to consider our own personal response.
We can strive to:
Be human, and call others to their humanity. Human beings should be treated as nothing less than that. All people are made in the Image of God. Each life is sacred and matters.
Be hospitable, and call for this in others. Be a welcoming, hospitable and safe person to be with. Invite a refugee family to your home for a meal.
Challenge hatred. This means challenging inhuman and inhospitable behavior, and opinions formed by ill-informed information.
Exemplify the essence of holiness and what it means to love your neighbor as yourself and to welcome the stranger.
European nations are enriched by communities and congregations of people of different streams, journeys, backgrounds, places of meeting, mingling, encounter and engagement. We can all play our part by growing together in relationships of mutual respect and trust – brilliant multi-faith, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural communities. We can build bridges, not walls. We can work together to build Towns, Villages and Cities we can be proud to live in, places of Sanctuary with cultures of welcome, hospitality and safety for all.