How are we to respond as human beings, as Christians and as a Church to the plight of refugees and migrants across Europe?
The pictures on our screens over the last few days have been heart-rending. Many of us will have been moved to tears. But how do we translate this outpouring of compassion into action and help others to do the same? What should we do?
One of the deepest truths in the Bible is that God blesses people so that those people in turn can become a blessing to others.
God calls Abraham in these words: “I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing”. God calls Jacob with this promise: “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring”.
When God blesses us it is not for our benefit alone. When God blesses us we are not to feel special. We are not to hoard those blessings and keep them to ourselves. We are blessed so that we might bless others – all the families of the earth. Everyone.
As a country, we have not been blessed with peace and security and wealth and peace for our own benefit alone. Safety is given so that safety and a future can be shared. We are called as a country to be open handed, open hearted, to give a home to those in greatest need, to carry relief and fresh vision to countries whose heart is ripped apart by war. We are called to find room.
There has been an outpouring of compassion following the tragic deaths of Aylan and Ghalib Kurdi on 2nd September. In response the Prime Minister announced yesterday plans to take in 20,000 refugees from the camps in and around Syria over the next five years.
This is a good beginning and a significant shift. It is in addition to the immense contribution Britain is already making to relief in Syria. But it can only be a beginning to Britain’s response to this crisis.
David Cameron refers to the extraordinary compassion of the British people. I don’t believe the Prime Minister has yet understood fully the extent to which people want Britain to play its full part in addressing the situation in Europe.
I met last night with Faith Leaders across the city of Sheffield and this morning with church leaders of different denominations. Our communities are united in compassion for the plight of the refugees. We are united in the belief that Britain can and should do more. The faith communities stand ready to help in partnership with local and national government in welcoming those who find a home in our communities whatever their faith and country of origin. Sheffield was the first City of Sanctuary in Britain and remains in the front line of welcoming strangers.
I have written to the Prime Minister today, urging him to offer leadership in two ways: to support Britain playing its full part in offering sanctuary to those now on the move in Europe as part of a European wide settlement and to encourage new international initiatives to resolve the conflict in Syria which is the root cause of this migration.
Many Christians and local churches have already begun to do more. I’ve listed below some of the local charities and national agencies which are channelling help to refugees.
Please translate this outpouring of compassion into action through gifts and support for some of these initiatives. There is no need to wait until a new wave of refugees arrive. Charities in the region are already hard at work helping people in need here and across Europe and the Middle East. Please encourage local and national government that, as a country, we support a bigger, more generous response still to one of the great crises of our age.
- Christian Aid – Giving practical aid and support to refugees and asylum seekers www.christianaid.org.uk
- Oxfam – Supporting refugees in the Middle East and also in Italy and parts of eastern Europe www.oxfam.org.uk
- Secours Catholique-Caritas France – A French Roman Catholic agency specifically supporting refugees in Calais www.donenligne.secours-catholique.org
- ASSIST Sheffield – Helping refugees and asylum seekers in the Sheffield area; welcomes both donations and volunteers to help in this work including conversation clubs in Sheffield and Doncaster www.assistsheffield.org.uk or 0114-275 4960
- Project Paddington – “Children helping children” – initially set up to send teddy bears to children of refugees; also accepting donations in co-operation with TEAR Fund. Web-site under construction. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rotherham Cares – Collecting clothes and other items at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Herringthorpe Valley Road, Rotherham www.facebook.com/rotherhamcares
- Calais People to People Solidarity: Action from Sheffield – Organising and facilitating solidarity from Sheffield to Calais www.facebook.com/groups/CalaisMigrantSolidarityActionFromSheffield
- Sheffield Aid to Refugees – Organising aid to refugees in Kos and Lesvos www.facebook.com/groups/708657839266597