Press Release No: 15/26
3 June 2015
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13: 2)
Statement on external borders of the EU especially the Mediterranean
The Conference of European Churches (CEC) expresses its deep concern about the repeated loss of life in the Mediterranean. CEC deplores that for over two decades tens of thousands of migrants have drowned in their attempts to reach safety or find a more dignified life in Europe.
Conflicts on the doorsteps of Europe have led to ever more migrants fleeing within and beyond their region. Many are trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy or Malta, others climb barbed wire border fences in Ceuta in Melilla or cross to the Greek Aegean islands or Cyprus. Less known are flight routes across Eastern external borders of Europe, but observations from the field suggest that human suffering and death might also be a reality here.
Smugglers are able to carry out their shameful lucrative business thanks to European migration policies. These policies, make it practically impossible to come legally to Europe even for those in the greatest need of protection.
Political reactions to the crisis have often focussed on stopping people rather than prioritising rescue of life.
Using military means to stop irregular migration is presented as a priority in EU documents. Little has been proposed by policy makers to allow for regular and safe migration. Reception and welcoming of those who arrive in Europe is still a task left to a few European states.
At the same time churches and civil society organisations have in many places mobilised remarkable support for those arriving on European shores. They are extending welcome on the island of Lampedusa, giving legal advice on Greek islands, offer church sanctuary in Germany or housing in Sweden, and in many places shelter those having survived dangerous journeys.
CEC recognises that ending the unacceptable and shameful situation of deaths at EU borders will require a multifaceted response and include short-and long-term measures. The most desirable situation would be that no one is forced to leave their home country.
CEC therefore wishes to reiterate its message of December 2014 (www.ceceurope.org) on the situation in the Middle East and commends the peace-building efforts undertaken in the region. CEC also welcomes further efforts which would reduce harmful effect of EU policies on arms or on trade, for livelihoods in other regions of the world.
CEC is however mindful that seeking protection in another country or even another part of the world will be a necessity for many people for the foreseeable future. CEC therefore urges:
Churches in Europe:
- To continue to pray for those who flee conflict, war and destruction;
- To commemorate those who have lost their lives on their way to Europe and use material developed for the annual day of commemoration proposed by CEC and CCME for 21 June 2015;
- To continue to work on addressing the root causes of forced displacement;
- To build up capacity to welcome refugees. We commend the examples given by churches in the Mediterranean and elsewhere;
- To provide places where fears about the arrival of strangers can be discussed and constructive ways of living together can be found;
- To cooperate in changing policies in the EU and associated statesfrom migration deterrence to those putting the human at the heart of migration policies. This could happen in part by cooperating with CCME in the 'safe passage' project;
- To address national governments and responsible authorities in EU member states in order to support such human centred migration policies.
- To develop and adequately finance fully fledge search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, carried out by qualified specialised staff;
- To refrain from militarising European migration policy including through plans to bombard boats potentially used by smugglers;
- To put in place policies which enable safe and legal pathways into Europe including more resettlement places, issuing of humanitarian visas, lifting of visa requirements for persons fleeing from conflict zones (e.g., Syria or Eritrea), and easier family reunification for persons in need of international protection or humanitarian admission;
- To support efforts of countries in the Middle East and other conflict regions as well as UNHCR to adequately support persons seeking international protection;
- To establish a system of solidarity between EU member states for the hosting of asylum applicants and refugees, which takes into consideration the wishes of asylum applicants and refugees;
- To refrain from efforts to put the responsibility of for the protection of refugees destined for Europe on non-EU countries;
- To advance plans for an accessible and known system of legal migration in countries of origin, thereby providing viable and humane alternatives to smuggling.
Conference of European Churches, Rue Joseph II, 174 B-1000 Brussels, website: www.ceceurope.org
The Conference of European Churches (CEC) is a fellowship of some 114 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Old Catholic Churches from all countries of Europe, plus 40 national council of churches and organisations in partnership. CEC was founded in 1959. It has offices in Brussels and Strasbourg.