European member churches respond to refugee crisis

A refugee woman carrying a child prepares to board a train for northern Europe at Budapest's main station, Keleti.Photo: MTI
A refugee woman carrying a child prepares to board a train for northern Europe at Budapest's main station, Keleti.Photo: MTI

“Situation has become especially dramatic”

BUDAPEST, Hungary/ GENEVA, 4 September 2015 (LWI) – With thousands of refugees arriving in Hungary every day, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH) has mobilized resources and volunteers to provide help to refugees in Hungary and in Budapest especially.

“Over the past few days, the situation in Hungary has become especially dramatic,” Bishop Tamas Fabiny, responsible for foreign affairs in the ELCH, and vice-president of the LWF says. According to UNHCR, more than 2,000 refugees mostly from Syria are crossing the border from Serbia to Hungary every day. Thousands are waiting around railway stations and on public squares in Budapest to board a train which would take them to northern European countries, such as Germany.

Blankets and hot meals

ELCH is collecting clothes, blankets, sleeping bags and first aid material in parishes and among church employees, and is offering 150 warm meals to refugees gathered around Keleti train station in Budapest every day. “This service is provided in cooperation with the student home located nearby,” Fabiny says. “A group of pastors and employees of the administrative center of the ELCH is distributing the food together with volunteers on site.”

Earlier, the ELCH donated about 4,000 USD to Hungarian Interchurch Aid for child care products which were distributed to refugee children in the temporary reception center in Nagyfa near Szeged, closer to the border of Serbia. The Diaconal Service of the ELCH is also donating medicine to refugee children in need. The Roma College in the city of Nyiregyhaza has also sent volunteers. ELCH is designing software to better coordinate volunteer activities.

“Several parishes and pastors participate in the volunteer activities,” Bishop Fabiny says, naming the Lutheran communities around Keleti Station and the nearby Pope John Paul II-square. The ELCH is also advocating against xenophobia. “The tension is tangible particularly in Hungary,” Fabiny says. “We are doing everything we can to fight anger and harmful preconceptions, and to promote a culture of mutual respect, inclusion and love instead."

“Open hearts and doors”

Like ELCH, many LWF member churches are reaching out to  refugees in Europe in the wake of recent events. With initiatives to welcome refugees in their parishes and communities and public statements they are encouraging Lutherans to support those who have fled war and oppression.

“Open your hearts and doors” is a document issued by Lutheran and Reformed pastors in Austria on 2 September 2015, which asks Austrians to “receive people who had to flee. They should have shelter and support, which respect their dignity and are conforming to human rights.”

Austrian protestant congregations are asked to discuss if they have the possibility of hosting refugees, how they can support refugees and how to raise awareness and advocate against xenophobia. “No child should be unaccompanied and unprotected, no woman or man should be exploited or in danger, no human being should be denied humane opportunities and procedures,” the declaration reads.

“Ring of joy” to protect refugees

In Jutland, Denmark, residents and pastors in their cassocks joined hands in a “ring of joy” to protect a local asylum center which had been vandalized repeatedly in previous weeks.

In Germany, many Lutheran congregations are hosting refugees or exploring ways to provide shelter. The Evangelical Church in Bavaria has formed a task force and plans to build 100 apartments for recognized refugees until the end of 2016. Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm has asked congregations to explore possibilities of hosting some of the up to 2,000 refugees which are currently arriving in Munich every day.

Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien, Presiding Bishop of the Church of Norway and vice-president in the LWF, issued a statement calling to support refugees arriving in Norway. “They carry the hope of safety and aid in a desperate situation,” Byfuglien says. “We must accept those who come and meet them with respect.”

The Norwegian Church urges to support Norwegian Church Aid and other organizations working nationally and internationally to alleviate suffering: “The situation calls upon our efforts, our prayers, our care and our donations,” Byfuglien says.

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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