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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

French Synod focuses on migrants and refugees

Max McClellan introducing his work in Greece
The Synod of the Archdeaconry of France met from 18 to 21 May in St Jacut de la Mer in Brittany. The theme of the synod was "Migration and Refugees" which provided a focus for the clergy and lay representatives of our communities in France and Monaco to examine this global phenomenon and its impact in our continent and diocese, and to consider ways that the Church and Christians can respond.

Two main speakers to this topic were Mr Max McClellan and Ms Doris Peschke. Max has worked with our Anglican Church in Greece, seconded by Us (formerly USPG) to assist Fr Malcolm Bradshaw in Athens in efforts to address the needs of refugees in that country. Doris is the General Secretary of the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME), an ecumenical agency of the Churches in Europe, and a body which provides much needed advice and support to our own diocese.

Max spoke of his work based in Athens during the time when hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees were transiting through Greece, having crossed the Aegean in flimsy inflatable boats, journeying onwards through the Balkans to countries such as Germany and Sweden. This situation has now changed dramatically with the closure of the Balkan route and the EU-Turkey "deal" to attempt to halt the flow of refugees from Turkey via this route. He spoke movingly of the complexities of the new reality in Greece, with about 53,000 refugees now stuck in Greece, with the EU promises of processing their claims and relocation largely ineffective. (only 615 out of the promised figure of 60,000 refugees have been relocated in the past 6 months). Many in Greece are now in what constitute detention centres, in deplorable conditions. Many asylum seekers don't know what is going on or what their options are; there is a lack of information available to them, and some are enticed by the smugglers offering ever more expensive and dangerous routes, now that the Balkan route is closed. The Anglican Church in Greece is providing hundreds of meals each week to those who are detained. Max also urged the synod not to refer to people as "illegal", as this is to take away their humanity. It may be that some do not fit the "official refugee profile", and they may have arrived by "illegal" means, but they are still human beings with claims that need to be examined, needs to be met and legal options presented clearly to them.

Area Dean Canon Debbie Flach (left) introduces Doris Peschke and the CCME to the Synod
Doris pointed out to the synod some of the misinformation concerning the numbers of asylum seekers and the relative scale of what EU countries face in comparison with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, for example. She reminded the synod that the majority of refugees in the world are in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, not in Europe. 12.5 million Syrians are displaced from their homes, but 2/3 of them are still in Syria. She spoke of the alarming fact that international funding and support for those displaced, even though increased in recent years, still has not reached the scale of the need. We now face the deplorable and shameful situation where people in official refugee camps are starving because international funding is insufficient.

These two important presentations were an excellent stimulus for the delegates to the synod to share their own experiences, engagement and efforts on behalf of refugees and migrants. It was a rich exchange.

Max McClellan and Doris Peschke - our expert speakers on refugees and migrants in Europe


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