European church leaders call for 'respect and compassion' towards refugees

REUTERS/Yannis BehrakisStranded Iranian migrants sit on rail tracks at the border between Greece and Macedonia near the Greek village of Idomeni November 24, 2015.

Dozens of church leaders have signed a joint statement calling for the European Union to 'cherish the dignity' of refugees.

In their Christmas Statement to the European Union, the leaders said they wanted Europe to be a 'welcoming and inclusive community'.

'We call on the nations and the people of Europe, on the political leaders and on our Churches: don't allow us to become indifferent to the suffering of others,' the statement read.

'Let us rather cherish the dignity of those who need our help and recognise that welcoming the stranger is part of our Christian and European heritage.'

The statement goes on express 'deep concern' over Europe's response to new arrivals of migrants, saying that the right to seek asylum needs to be protected.

'It is unacceptable that policies of "managing migration" lead to situations where the massive loss of human life on the way to Europe has become normal and exploitation and violence an everyday reality,' it reads.

'We need meaningful safe passages (e.g. resettlement, humanitarian visa, realistic labour migration policies) and search and rescue on the way to Europe.'

The church leaders said that while it was important to try to improve conditions in the countries migrants are coming from, Europe should for 'as long as reasons for migration exist [...] accept its obligation to welcome and protect - as one of the richest and most developed regions of the globe; instead of coercing third countries into stopping migration into Europe'.

They also renounced the common concern that accepting in large numbers of migrants is harming European societies.

'Policies should address the specific needs of new arrivals in Europe and encourage their potential to contribute, while at the same time honouring the traditions and needs of inhabitants alike,' they said.

'Discussions on migration and refugees should be characterised by dignity, respect, and where possible compassion. Spreading of inaccurate, unverifiable and divisive messages only makes the challenge of living together more difficult.

'Conflicts will inevitably arise where people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds are living together, particularly under rapidly changing circumstances.

'Living together in diversity can be both enriching and challenging. We ask for a spirit of tolerance and goodwill and a commitment to constructive engagement.'

Signatories of the letter include several church leaders from the UK: the General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Rev Lynn Green; Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Rev Susan Brown; Chair of the European Chapter of Cherubim and Seraphim Churches, Apostle Pastor John Adegoke; President of the Methodist Conference, the Rev Michaela Youngson; Moderators of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, the Rev Nigel Uden and Mr Derek Estill; and Bishop Jonathan Clark of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.

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