The Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, has sounded a welcome to those refugees who arrived in Belfast from Syria this week, and asked for prayers for all refugees.
The Bishop was speaking following a statement by the Rt Rev Ken Good, Bishop of Derry & Raphoe, and the Rt Rev Patrick Rooke, Bishop of Tuam, Killala & Achonry, outlining the Church of Ireland’s response to the refugee crisis.
The statement reads:
The plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean over this year has moved hearts across the Church of Ireland and motivated a deep desire to help people fleeing conflict, often accompanied by their families.
The scale and speed of the crisis makes it one of the defining issues of our time. Fear of persecution has forced almost 20 million people across borders, of whom 4.3 million are fleeing civil war in Syria.
As strangers in foreign lands, refugees and asylum seekers are people desiring a brighter future. It is surely our responsibility, as part of Christ’s worldwide church, to serve and make them welcome and play our part in Ireland’s broader response.
The Archbishop of Armagh and Archbishop of Dublin set out a three–fold response in September, which affirmed the compassion already expressed by many individuals and parishes.
Prayer must be our starting point. As bishops, we continue to encourage members of the Church of Ireland to intercede for people who have been displaced, traumatised and bereaved, and also for empathy and wisdom for European governments as they decide on their response.
Parishioners are also encouraged to write to and meet with their respective TDs and MPs, to encourage governments to offer more refuge and resettlement.
Generous giving to the Bishops’ Appeal has to date provided €50,000 (£35,000) to Christian Aid and Tearfund as they respond to the needs of refugees, of which €10,000 (£7,000) has been allocated to the response within the European Union. The crisis fund is still open for donations and information on giving and gift aid is available athttp://bishopsappeal.ireland.anglican.org/donate
Funding from Christian Aid has helped to provide food and fresh water on the Greek islands, clothes and boots for refugees and asylum seekers in Serbia. This is in addition to the existing practical humanitarian support provided in the refugee camps of Iraq and Lebanon.
Tearfund’s local partners within Syria have continued to reach thousands of people with emergency food supplies. Blankets, heating stoves and fuel subsidies will help displaced families to survive bitter winter conditions.
The Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland have recognised that the crisis presents a major challenge for governments and Churches alike – but also opens up opportunities to respond with generosity and in faith. The Church of Ireland has written to the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive and Secretary of State to express our willingness to help and that offer still stands.
Two working groups – for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland respectively – have been established to co–ordinate our response. With a network of parishes across the island, the Church can swiftly offer goodwill and practical help to arriving refugees.
The Republic of Ireland has received 100 Syrian refugees in the year to date. A further 80 are due to arrive before Christmas, followed by another 100 in the new year. A group of 51 refugees has now arrived in Northern Ireland.
Resettlement is an option to care for the most vulnerable refugees who cannot be supported effectively in their region of origin e.g. women and children at risk, people in severe need of medical care, and survivors of torture and violence.
Small acts of service will make a difference e.g. by befriending people, introducing them to a doctor or dentist, or providing food, household supplies and toys to help them start a new life.
We are in contact with specialist organisations – such as the Irish Refugee Council, Irish Red Cross and Embrace – which have been registering offers of assistance and providing relevant information.
Even if peace returned in Syria in the coming months, it would take years for its displaced people to return home and decades for the country to return to normality. This crisis will be with us for the long term and we welcome commitments by the UK and Irish governments to resettle refugees – 20,000 and 4,000 respectively – over the next five years. Indeed, some refugees will build the rest of their lives here.
As our response develops, we will consider how we can work collaboratively with charities, NGOs and Churches to meet effectively the humanitarian needs of our new neighbours through further advocacy, research, training and practical support.
The appalling attacks in Paris on 13th November reawakened fears of terrorists infiltrating Europe and led to suspicion and hostility towards refugees, especially Muslims.
We should remember that millions of people – Muslims, Christians and others – are fleeing similar acts of terror perpetrated by Islamic State and other militant groups. We rightly support the difficult work of our police and security services in protecting our society and we must also continue to respond with compassion, challenge harmful words and actions, and seek to ensure that the public debate about the immigration is balanced and accurately informed.
The resettlement of refugees also raises practical questions about pressures on public services and how we continue to meet the needs of other vulnerable people. The refugee crisis reaffirms the responsibility of governments and Churches to reach out and serve all people in need.
Our Saviour was born into such a world of fear and insecurity and, as a child, journeyed from Bethlehem to Egypt and Nazareth as a refugee. It is still the experience of many Christians today. Offering hope to the stranger in our midst is a profound example of how we follow Christ and love our neighbour in a turbulent and changing world.
The authors chair the Church of Ireland’s working groups on refugees in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland respectively. Bishop Rooke is also Chair of the Bishops’ Appeal. The above article was first published in the Church of Ireland Gazette.