Bishop Angaelos: Christians at risk of being left out by Syrian refugee schemes

The service was at St Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey to commemorate the Coptic Feast of Nayrouz and the new Coptic Year

Syrian Christians fleeing Islamic State are at risk of not having equal access to the Government's refugee scheme, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK said this evening.

Bishop Angaelos used his sermon to reflect on a year of regression as well as a year of opportunity

Bishop Angaelos was speaking during a service to celebrate the Coptic New Year at St Margeret's Church, Westminster Abbey.

He reflected on the opportunity the last year offered, as well as the sadness, in his sermon to members of both the House of Lords and the Commons, ambassadors, guests from other Christian churches and members of the Coptic community. Focussing on the crisis in the Middle East, he urged the congregation not just to pray, but to act.

"Let us offer our hospitality, our homes and our hearts" to Syrians arriving in Britain, he said.

However, speaking to a group of journalists after the service, Bishop Angaelos praised the UK government scheme to accept 20,000 refugees over the next five years but said it may inadvertently be leaving out Christians.

"From what we hear from the Church in Syria and in Iraq, the Christians are not in the UNHCR refugee camps," he said. "They are being hosted by church camps and by Christian communities but they are not in the camps because they do not feel safe there.

"So if we just take people from the camps then we are not going to find Christians.

"The government scheme is very good but it inadvertently leaves out a whole group because they are not there."

This information was from churches in Syria, Iraq and the surrounding countries, Bishop Angaelos explained. He urged the government to use other networks outside the refugee camps to ensure Christians have at least equal access to the government's scheme.

Although he was quick to praise the Government for making "a start" by accepting 20,000 refugees, he agreed with the 84 Church of England bishops who have called on David Cameron to accept 50,000 and said more must be done.

"I agree we need to accept as many as we can. 20,000 is a start and let's work with that but it is not enough. We need to take more.

"What the magic number is no one knows. I would agree with 50,000 but it could even be more."

However he also accepted that taking more refugees was never going to a long-term solution.

"The only solution is to find a solution from within. No matter how many refugees we take there it will never be enough.

"In this case we need a diplomatic solution. There needs to be a willingness to get to the table and resolve the issue."

Speaking to Christian Today, Bishop Angaelos elaborated on comments made in his sermon where he described the situation in the Middle East as "crossing a line of evil" and marked a "return to medieval brutality."

"It is the worst evil we have seen since even before the Holocaust," he said.

"When was the last time we heard of beheadings on this scale? When was the last time we heard of people being burnt alive? How many times have we heard about women being sold on the internet with a price list? We are talking about slavery and human trafficking."