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Saturday, 1 August 2015

St Saviour's Riga issues a statement in support of refugees from Syria and Eritrea

St Saviour's Anglican Church, Riga
Latvia has announced that it will receive 250 Syrians and Eritrean refugees. According to our parish priest in St Saviour's, Riga, the Rt Revd Jana Jeruma-Grinberga, the Latvian announcement has occasioned an outpouring of xenophobia in some quarters in that country. St Saviour's has issued a statement in support of the Latvian government's decision to provide refuge for those fleeing war and persecution. Churchwarden Michael Mustillo, has also been to visit the hostel which houses some of the recently arrived asylum seekers. 

The statement from St Saviour's Church is below, a clear articulation of our Christian response in the face of the growing refugee crisis, for which we are grateful.

Incidentally, the UK has only admitted a mere 187 asylum seekers from Syria under its "Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme" and has just recently agreed to further 200. Relative to the wealth and resources of Latvia, this is astonishingly small number, given the extent of the crisis, in my view.

(Jana was the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain prior to her appointment as Chaplain of St Saviour's, an appointment made possible under the Porvoo Agreement).

St Saviour's priest Jana, presiding at a baptism.

Statement/press release
“Scripture has much to say about the treatment of the vulnerable and the need to welcome strangers and foreigners without suspicion. It is an essential part of the Church's mission and ministry to reach out to the marginalised and persecuted, and to stand in solidarity with them in their struggles, suffering and hopes.

Christians are also called to prophetic witness, to speak out against injustice and oppression; this might include asking questions concerning policies and attitudes that dehumanise and breed intolerance.” (from the Church of England web site).

Today we in Latvia are being asked to accept just 250 people fleeing persecution, war and injustice in Syria and Eritrea.

Syria, torn apart by a civil war, has seen thousands of its citizens killed and maimed by war and by Islamist violence. The infrastructure of this once highly developed country has collapsed.
Eritrea is now nominally at peace after a prolonged border war with Ethiopia, but the United Nations Commission on Human Rights reported in June 2015:

“The Government of Eritrea is responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled, a large proportion of the population is subjected to forced labour and imprisonment, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the country, according to a UN report released Monday. Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.”

As a congregation of the Church of England Diocese in Europe, St Saviour’s Congregation supports the efforts of the Government of Latvia to welcome a small proportion of those fleeing the perils of war, and persecution by their own governments.  The handful of new arrivals to our country are in no sense a threat to our way of life or to Latvian identity; instead it gives us an opportunity to extend a warm welcome and healing hospitality to people who have suffered terrible trauma. With help and encouragement, these new arrivals can become productive members of society, grateful for the opportunity of living in safety and security.

We are opposed to efforts to raise anxiety and intolerance over the arrival of refugees in Latvia, which are at best misguided, and at worst manipulative and racist.

The Biblical imperative is to welcome the stranger and the refugee. “17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10.17-19)

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”... “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25)

We commit ourselves to continuing to extend a Christian welcome to all those in need, to the marginalised and persecuted, as St Saviour’s has done for 197 years for citizens of Latvia and all those who have sought help, friendship and refuge in our community.

In line with recommendations from our Church, and within the limits of our resources of time and funds, St Saviour’s will
Pray for peace; work for peace and justice; and seek to understand the causes of conflict and persecution in our world
Seek to work with other churches in Latvia to improve our awareness of the situation of asylum seekers and people caught in trafficking
Seek to work with other churches in Latvia to provide practical help and support to refugees and asylum seekers
Help refugees and asylum seekers to integrate into society in Latvia

On behalf of the Council of St Saviour’s Anglican Church

Jana Jeruma-Grinberga
Bishop Emerita, Chaplain

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