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Christian duty: Migrants enter a makeshift church built in the “jungle”, a refugee camp outside Calais (photo: ©Francois Lo Presti/AFP/Getty Images)

The human tide of refugees, economic migrants, young men fleeing conscription and others who have arrived on Europe’s shores shows no sign of receding. As always, there are heart-rending stories of why people have undertaken hazardous journeys by land and sea. The human toll in terms of suffering and loss of life is enormous. There is also the seamier side of this huge migration, with traffickers making fortunes out of human misery.

How then should we respond to this new reality on our doorsteps? The first and immediate thing is to say is that we must not fail in compassion. The Bible tells us not only to love our neighbours as ourselves but also strangers because the people of Israel were once strangers in Egypt until they were liberated by God (Lev 19:33-34). Jesus himself reaffirms this teaching and makes it his own (Mark 12:29-31 and parallels). The rest of the New Testament also teaches that this is a fundamental Christian duty (e.g. Rom 13:8-10).

These values lie behind the warm reception which the refugees and migrants have received in some European countries. It is what has motivated the churches and Christian volunteers to help with food, shelter, clothing and medical provision for those arriving on their borders. Such warm humanitarianism cannot and should not be belittled. Nor should a determination to see that history is not repeated in turning people away who may be in real danger in their own or in neighbouring countries.

Having said that, we must also ask about the causes of the crisis and what can be done to address them. We have to ask too about the role of international agencies in the crisis, as well as that of regional powers.

Although only a minority of those on the move are actually from Syria, it is quite clear that it is the multi-faceted civil war there which has given a fresh impetus to people from different parts of the world moving towards Europe. Before the conflict, there was a commonly understood trade-off in Syria: a degree of religious and personal freedom in exchange for restrictions on political freedom. Many, if not most, Syrians accepted this situation, even if with resignation, as necessary in maintaining peaceful coexistence among the many ethnic and religious groups there. This status quo was fatally disturbed by the Saudi and Qatari backing for those elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunnis who, under cover of the so-called Arab Spring, wished to exact revenge on the present President Assad and the Ba’ath party for what the elder Assad had done to them in the 1970s and ’80s. The West’s ill-judged support of its allies, in their support of a Sunni Islamist rebellion against a secular state dominated by the Alawites, completed the ingredients for the powder keg which has exploded with such dire consequences for Syria itself, its neighbours and now Europe.

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Roger Malone
November 8th, 2015
6:11 PM
Excellent, I agree with everything he says. "A voice crying in the wilderness" though, because the liberal elite in power, in the government and the church, won't pay any attention, which is probably why Justin Welby is Archbishop instead of Nazir-Ali! But then they did'nt pay any attention to Jesus either!

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