The Orthodox Archbishop of Athens has ripped the EU for its “repressive” refugee policies, and said that “welcoming the stranger is an integral part of Christian heritage”.
– Moria fires “a tragedy waiting to happen”
The Church of Greece has been observing developments in the EU refugee crisis “with deep concern”, guided as it is by the biblical commandment to “cherish the dignity of all people” and keep “constantly aware of our responsibility towards those in need”, Archbishop Ieronymos said in an interview published September 21 on the website of the World Council of Churches.
The Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and All Greece denounced that the crisis recently brought into sharp relief by the fires in the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos “is actually a crisis of values and principles, calling into question the institutional framework of human rights respect and, theologically speaking, the respect of personhood”.
Ieronymos recalled that the “essential EU principle” of “solidarity” should be the driving force when managing migration and refugee reception.
However, the hierarch lamented that “the unequal distribution of responsibilities between European member states has led to Greece and the other countries of entry being left to handle the situation in a manner that is in no way conducive to the ideals that Europe supposedly espouses regarding human rights protection”.
“The repressive policies implemented by the EU have resulted in thousands of international protection seekers having to endure long confinement in the overcrowded hot spots of the Aegean islands, living under indecent conditions with insufficient access to fundamental goods or services”, Ieronymos decried.
He added that in the context of that repression, the fires in the Moria settlement were “just a tragedy waiting to happen”.
Recalling that “Jesus tells us that our response to the stranger is a response to Jesus himself (Matthew 25.40)”, Ieronymos called on EU authorities to implement “a spirit of tolerance and goodwill” in their response to human displacement “as well as a commitment to constructive engagement” around the problems the phenomenon presents.
– “We should accept our obligation to welcome and protect our suffering brothers and sisters”
Ieronymos explained that out of its commitment to the “long-standing Greek and Orthodox tradition of the ‘magnificent ethos of hospitality'”, as well as its duty to live out “the evangelical call for assisting the brother in need regardless of colour, religion or origin”, the Greek Orthodox Church is currently operating five shelters for unaccompanied minors, with plans to open a further four.
“These shelters are not designed as a mere temporary accommodation but rather as a safe space where through the provision of a wide range of services the children will be assisted so as to develop their potential”, the archbishop explained, also referring to the Greek Orthodox Church’s offer of immediate relief for migrants on the ground, and of support and legal assistance to adult refugees.
As for what needs to happen for a more effective and humane approach to migration and forced displacement, Ieronymos stressed that “working towards eliminating the reasons that force people to move by improving conditions in countries of origin” would go a long way towards ending the suffering.
However, “persecution, conflict and wars are still a dark reality in today’s world and we should accept our obligation to welcome and protect our suffering brothers and sisters”, the archbishop emphasised.
Ieronymos called too for consideration of the “day after” facing migrants and refugees who make it to Europe. “In other words, it is high time we engage in promoting the social integration of refugees in a way that is both fair to them and beneficial for the reception society”, he explained.
According to the Orthodox archbishop, that integration must involve “the development of ties, relationships and networks between refugees and local societies… so that the presence of the “other” will be considered an advantage rather than a threat”.
Archbishop Ieronymos’ reflections on the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe came just as the EU Commission is due to present a new Migration Pact September 23.