Austrian, Swiss bishops; other Church groups urge 'solidarity and human rights' in Greek-Turkish migrant crisis

Austrian, Swiss bishops; other Church groups urge “solidarity and human rights” in Greek-Turkish migrant crisis

Austrian and Swiss bishops, along with various Church groups, are urging “solidarity and human rights” in the Greek-Turkish migrant crisis.

– Austrian bishop calls on Chancellor to show “humanitarian responsibility”

This March 6 Austrian Bishop of Gurk-Klagenfurt Josef Marketz, alongside local Carinthian Protestant, Islamic and other Christian leaders, co-signed a letter to Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz addressing the crisis unfolding on Greece’s land and sea borders.

In that missive, the religious representatives pleading with Kurz “to actively work on national and transnational challenges in the area of ​​asylum, migration and integration, to find constructive solutions and to implement them in solidarity”.

Kurz had earlier March 4 rejected calls to accept more migrants into Austria, saying to reporters at a press briefing:”The federal government’s line is clear: no additional voluntary admission to Austria”.

But the Carinthian religious representatives reminded Kurz that “we see ourselves as part of society, which is aware that we have to make a fair contribution to our humanitarian responsibility at home and abroad, regardless of what seems opportune at the moment”.

Local Lutheran bishop Michael Chalupka later added his voice to the appeal of his religious confreres, insisting that “the people who have become the ball of political powers” on Greece’s land and sea borders “urgently need our help and solidarity”.

– Swiss Bishops back opening of “humanitarian corridors” for refugees

In the meantime, the Catholic Bishops of Switzerland, from their March 2-4 General Assembly in Geneva, have expressed their “deep concern” about the situation of refugees on the southern borders of Europe, particularly between Greece and Turkey.

The prelates gave voice to those sentiments in a press release at the conclusion of the meet, in which they also welcomed the opening of humanitarian corridors in Switzerland and announced financial support to help young refugees.

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Specifically, the Episcopate decided to financially support a project of the Armenian Catholic Church in Greece, which aims to help people in difficulty, aged between 18 and 30, by providing them with accommodation, food and clothing.

That project, which has been underway for three years, will be able to continue for another year now thanks to the Swiss Church.

– European Churches: “No human being should have to be a tool in a political games”

For their part, the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) have expressed deep concern on rising tensions at the EU-Turkey border.

Speaking from Brussels, general secretaries of both European ecumenical organisations voiced alarm over reports of violence against persons trying to cross border between Turkey and EU countries, and those who are assisting them.

“We urge solidarity and respect for human rights and dignity. We are all created in the image of God – a fundamental Christian principal,” said Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen, CEC general secretary. “No human being, no migrant or refugee should have to be a tool in a political game.”

He went on to say that “countries at the EU external border, such as Greece or Cyprus, but also Turkey have been confronted with enormous challenges due to migratory moves for years. Amidst these challenges, we express thanks to the churches, civil society actors and states, who have been responding to the situation.”  

“In this difficult time, we need to find operational responses entailing respect for human dignity and right to asylum as laid down in Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the existing EU asylum law,” said Dr Torsten Moritz, CCME general secretary.

“We invite EU and its Member States to finally extend solidarity to countries and people at the EU external border. Safe access to protection, dignified reception and relocation must be ensured.”

“We are concerned but we are hopeful that EU can resolve this situation. We ask churches and their members across Europe to pray and act for a swift solution,” he added.

Member churches and partners of CEC and CCME, are continuing to provide reception and legal advice to migrants, including shelter for unaccompanied minors in Greece.

A number of churches are pledging reception places along with local government authorities in other EU countries, distributing food and providing support at the Greek Turkish border.

Churches have often expressed concern over violence and dehumanising conditions around the border, criticising consequences of the EU-Turkey agreement. Together with humanitarian organisations, NGOs and their governments, they are continuing to develop affective humanitarian responses, reception and support.

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(Source: CEC)

– World Council of Churches deplores “humanitarian catastrophe” on Greek land, sea borders

Meanwhile, German delegation comprised of representatives of municipalities, church leaders and prominent civil society organizations recently visited the Greek island of Lesbos, already hosting tens of thousands of migrants and displaced people, and was on site when the news of the opening of the Turkish border was announced and the first new arrivals were appearing.

The delegation observed intolerable conditions for people in dire need in the camps:

“People have to sleep in bitter cold. There is no hygiene. There is a lack of medical care, food, and the very basics for survival.”

But these camps were set up in connection with the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement.

“This humanitarian catastrophe is therefore political. Everything must be done to end the inhumane conditions in these camps immediately,” wrote the delegation in a message.

The delegation insisted that the EU-Turkey statement “cannot be a blueprint for the European asylum system,” and called for “a new start in European asylum policy, taking into account the interests of the Member States and those seeking protection equally.

“Safe and legal paths are needed for asylum seekers and for migrants.

“The reform plans with hotspots at the European external borders currently being discussed in the EU Commission and member states are completely unsuitable for this.

“Imprisoning people solely for their asylum application violates applicable European law. It is obvious that the existing camps do not relieve the external border states. On the contrary, spaces of lawlessness and misery are created.”

Recently, Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairperson of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, said: “We want people to be able to live safely and with dignity.”

World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said:

“The delegation affirmed, and I join in affirming, that our municipalities, our cities, our counties and parishes must remain places of refuge for all people who are entitled to help and protection.”

(Source: WCC)

– Catholic peace group Pax Christi, to Greek, EU politicians: “Protect our laws and humanity!”

For its part, Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi International co-signed an Open Letter from 85 human rights groups addressed to the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic and the Presidents of the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission, expressing deep concern about recent developments at the Evros border and the Aegean islands where people are stranded at the borders of Europe.

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– Full text of the Pax Christi joint statement

(Source: Pax Christi International)

More on Novena on the Turkey-Greece migrant crisis:

Churches warn EU, Turkey “migrants not missiles” as Cardinal Hollerich implores Europe to remember vocation to welcome

Novena reader feedback: Greek Orthodox Church takes very different perspective on Turkey refugee crisis… here’s why

Church groups plead for “united Europe of humanity” in face of refugee tragedy on Greek land, sea borders

Church groups, NGOs warn EU over Turkey-Greece migrants crisis: “This game, played by the powerful, is putting human lives at risk”

Greek Church deplores migrant pincer on Turkey border as Catholic support for refugees floods in from Europe

Jesuit Refugee Service denounces “wicked” EU refugee deal with Turkey “has condemned millions to misery, despair and death”

Angelus 1/3: Pope Francis “saddened… so many chased away by war” as Greece blocks at border 10,000 Syrian refugees

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.