“Duty to protect refugees is not only a moral obligation”

Refugees lie exhausted in a public place in Hungary, en route to northern European countries. Photo:MTI
Refugees lie exhausted in a public place in Hungary, en route to northern European countries. Photo:MTI

LWF General Secretary encourages efforts to address the current crises

GENEVA, 4 September 2015 (LWI) – The current refugee crisis in Europe is a pivotal moment in which churches can demonstate values of solidarity and human dignity, the LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge has said in a letter to LWF member churches in Europe on 4 September 2015.

Junge commended the response of the many churches in Europe to the current crisis and recalled the strong statement from the LWF Church Leadership Consultation in May in which church leaders committed Lutheran churches to increase efforts to welcome refugees in their midst.

The General Secretary strongly lamented the failure of European political leadership. “Shocking images convey to us that the current stalemate among European countries to jointly address the rights of refugees translates in human lives being lost every day, including children,” Junge writes.

“The current situation reveals the crossroads at which the human family finds itself: will solidarity, mutuality and human dignity still matter? Will the notion of human beings – including refugees – as right holders still matter? It is decisive to get the answers right.

“The protection of refugees is not only a moral obligation,” Junge reminded member churches. “As signatories of international law, in particular the Refugee Convention, European nations have committed to the duty to protect refugees.”

Important role of churches

The LWF is urging member churches to continue upholding their diaconal vocation to advocate for refugees. In a briefing on 3 September, 2015, in Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on the pressure on reception capacities in Europe to cope with the influx of refugees. The UNHCR has declared a level-2 emergency for Greece, Macedonia and Serbia. The UNHCR also underlined the role of churches and church leaders in responding to the crisis.

Junge said churches must speak out in favour of a generous welcome ““that recognizes each refugee’s human dignity and that counteracts the populist messages of fear and exclusion.”

LWF member churches in Hungary, Austria, Germany and Norway, among others, have started to assist refugees arriving in their communities. “It has been inspiring to see the numerous ways in which Lutherans and other people of good will have reached out to show hospitality and welcome for those who have had to flee. On behalf of the Lutheran World Federation, the global communion of churches, I want to express my deep appreciation for this prophetic presence, as well as affirm and encourage you in those efforts,” Junge adds.

“This is a shameful situation”

Advocacy initiatives to welcome strangers are not only coming from the European churches.

In an open letter to leaders of the world on 1 September, Bishop Dr Munib A Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land asks political leaders to address the causes of forced displacement. He called on those countries receiving refugees to create a culture of welcome. 

“I myself am a refugee,” wrote Younan, who is also the President of the LWF. “My faith and my history oblige me to speak up for these women, men and children who are washing up on beaches, are found decomposing in trucks on the highway, are crossing borders of barbed wire, and are barely surviving in makeshift camps.”

“This is a shameful situation,” Younan writes. “It must be remembered that refugees are not vacationers. They did not leave their homes because they were looking for adventure.

“This humanitarian crisis requires even stronger actions. These people, our brothers and sisters, are crying: “Who will welcome us? Where is justice?” Younan writes.

“God hears the cries of the poor, the oppressed, and the refugee,” Younan re-iterates. He calls on leaders to approach refugee communities not merely as problems to be solved, but as fellow children of God deserving accompaniment, dignity, and human rights.

Read letter by Rev. Dr Martin Junge to Lutheran member churches

Refugee crisis focus:

European member churches respond to refugee crisis

“What have you done or failed to do for one of these?”

Support

Support LWF member churches’ work among refugees in Europe. The LWF is running a program through its member church in Italy offering psychosocial support to refugees, collecting funds for the immediate need in central Europe and planning capacity building for member churches to respond to the refugee crisis. To offer support, please donate through your church or alternatively, through the Lutheran World Federation.

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