The refugee issue

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

The migrants who have so spectacularly been coming into Europe from Africa and the Middle East are already having a huge impact on Europe which will last for generations.  Whether this impact is revealed in the vast numbers of new residents taken into countries like Germany and Sweden, or the huge fences that have gone up around other countries’ borders to keep out even people only wishing to pass through those countries, the entire continent is being affected.  In the UK, the first of the refugees taken from camps in Syria are beginning to arrive, and across the continent politics is being affected by the argument between those who say we should show more compassion to our fellow humans, and others who say our countries are already full and charity begins at home.

These issues are so huge that many individual Christians are feeling disempowered, despite caring deeply about the issue.  They feel they can’t change anything, have no impact on government policy and don’t know what they can do to help.  So here are some of our suggestions.

Pray – It goes without saying that refugees, whatever their religious beliefs, need our prayers.  So do the charities, churches, government officials and individuals working with them.  Many refugees have seen their loved ones killed, and have lost their homes and communities.  They are traumatised, and so are many of the overworked counsellors trying to help them.

Donate  – Many of the charities working with refugees could do so much more to help if they had more resources, to help them feed and clothe people in refugee camps, provide education and healthcare, and help to welcome and settle immigrants.

Be informed –  Many mission agencies are working with refugees – find out which ones they are through their websites.  The European Evangelical Alliance has an excellent webpage, and the latest edition of Vista addresses the issue of migration.  The Refugee Highway Partnership has a major role to play in this and the European Evangelical Mission Association is hosting a conference in June focussing on refugee issues and the church’s response.  Find out if your network or denomination has a policy, spokesperson on refugee issues and get involved.

Help – Volunteering to help a charity might seem like a huge challenge, but they may need people to sort through donated clothing, distribute food packages and do other tasks which their own staff may be overworked with and would value some help with.

Do – Find out if any refugees are coming to your town, get in touch with whoever is coordinating care for them, and ask what you can do to help.  Over 50 local authorities have been helping to settle refugees so there are probably some near you.  They will need practical support, help understanding your country’s dominant culture and language, and friendship.  You don’t have to be particularly skilled to show them around your community, or drive them somewhere, or go with them to meetings with benefits officers to make sure they understand.

Serve –  Many of us have skills which we don’t think about using to help mission workers.  We can cook, drive, and speak the dominant language of the host community.  We have many connections we can utilise to help.  Many of us have professions like hairdressing, nursing, or teaching which we could use to help refugees.

Advocate –  In a world where much in the media is openly hostile to the idea of taking in more refugees, write letters to newspapers, local counsellors and members of parliament advocating for them.  Sign petitions and use social media to keep the issue in peoples’ minds.

The issues of refugees in Europe is not going to go away quickly.  It will change our societies, our understanding of community and the ways in which we go about mission.  Churches have a huge part to play in this transformation and have a wonderful opportunity to be on the cutting edge of change.

Eurozone crisis part 2

With the tedious inevitability of a long-lasting B-movie franchise, another episode of the Eurozone Crisis is shortly to be released, this time with some new lead characters.  Since we reported on the temporary resolution of the Eurozone crisis six months ago, things have proceeded fairly smoothly. The Germans have continued to impose rigorous financial efficiency on the rest of the zone, by requiring the vulnerable countries (notably Greece, Italy and Spain) to make swathing cuts in government expenditure with the intention of balancing their budgets. To an extent, this seems to have worked, as the interest rates on their debt have fallen. The citizens of these countries, however, are significantly disgruntled at the poverty these cuts are imposing.

There is a fairly compelling argument that balancing the books will not in itself bring the Eurozone out of recession, since some amount of government spending is necessary to stimulate the economy back into growth. The Germans of course, who face the bill for keeping the fragile economies going, are reluctant to countenance any increase in government spending, and of course don’t need to do this at home since their own manufacturing sector is doing very nicely.

Two events occurred last Sunday which will significantly threaten the fragile consensus over the German approach to Eurozone stabilisation. Francois Hollande, who was elected President of France last Sunday – the first Socialist President since Francois Mitterand left office in 1995 – believes in government stimulation of the economy.  ‘Austerity can no longer be the only option,’ he said. This means that the ‘Merkozy’ consensus which saw France and Germany together working to control government debt is now likely to be shattered, with France moving to a position challenging the Germans. Both sides recognise the danger of this and are keen to appear conciliatory.  Mrs Merkel, the German Chancellor, was the first leader to phone and congratulate Mr Hollande, who in turn will visit Germany for talks immediately after his investiture on 15th May.

Nevertheless, the argument seems to be swinging against the Germans as the Eurozone economy bumps along the bottom, and many people are realising that the German approach has not delivered recovery. The Eurozone may be about to change course. Hollande has a powerful ally – Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, who recently told the European Parliament ‘We have had a fiscal compact. Right now, what is in my mind is to have a growth compact.’

The second major event was the result of the Greek general election, which took place on the same day as the French presidential one. Many Greeks are extremely unhappy with the austerity imposed by last year’s EU-IMF bailout of the Greek economy, and disgruntled voters deserted the main political parties en masse. The protest vote was garnered by radical parties of the left and the right.  The second largest party, Syriza, firmly rejects the terms of the EU bailout, which means it cannot ally with the two other largest parties, who are pro-austerity, to form a government. There may have to have another election, which could well see Syriza improve its position.

This means that the government which eventually emerges is far more likely to reject the extreme measures which have been imposed on it in exchange for the bailout of its economy. This will lead either to the exit of Greece from the Euro – something which is already being discussed, albeit in reasonably guarded terms – or a renegotiation of the terms, which will not go down well in Germany, where voters are already unhappy at working long hours and retiring late in order to support the ‘lazy’ Greeks. Mrs Merkel faces a general election next year and after suffering recently in local elections she will be keen to avoid upsetting her voters. Germany has warned Greece that there will be no more money if it fails to keep to the agreed terms.

The ongoing uncertainty will ensure that the value of the Euro on international markets will remain depressed, and European mission workers will continue to find it hard to raise funds for their ministry.