Refugees from Zimbabwe and other African countries pray during evening worship at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, Photo: Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures

Refugees from Zimbabwe and other African countries pray during evening worship at the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, Photo: Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth Pictures

Dr Masiiwa Ragies Gunda, World Council of Churches (WCC) programme executive for programmatic responses on overcoming racism, addressed the forum on behalf of the WCC. Irregular migration is an indictment of the historic and contemporary mismanagement of African resources, leaving especially the young and productive Africans to look not just for greener pastures but for green and sometimes just ordinary pastures in lands where they are exposed to degrading and dehumanizing treatment, which reeks of historic racial prejudices,” said Gunda. Churches appear to be the places of hope for migrants but they need to embrace their role as safe spaces, which has not always been the case.”

Complicated policies governing regular migration and worsening situations in African countries are pushing people to opt for dangerous and risky irregular migration.

As one African irregular migrant noted: "No parent will put their child onto a boat unless they think the water is safer than the land!”

Dr Torsten Moritz, general secretary of the ChurchesCommission for Migrants in Europe, reflected that African-European migration is an important part of global migration. It leads to opportunities but also challenges and sorrow – deaths, exploitations, uprootedness to name a few,” said Moritz. Our cooperation as African and European churches will strengthen responses – be it more opportunities of safe migration or more alternatives to being forced to migrate.  The joint forum has given a major boost to this.”

The forum is the first time since 2008 that African and European churches—convened by the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Northern Germany, and Churches’  Commission for Migrants in Europe—have met for such an encounter. The forum was organized also in partnership with the Missions Akademie, University of Hamburg.

Discussions covered theological positions, practical responses of churches in Africa and Europe to migration—in particular irregular migration—and related issues like racism and colonialism. Participants are also producing a list of action points for follow up.

Participants had a day of encounter and exposure with local initiatives, both church and secular, working with and for migrants.

Many of these encounters took place in the African Church Centre Borgfelde, an initiative of the district Hamburg East of the Evangelical Lutheran Church for encounter of people of African and German background.

Rev. Dr Fidon Mwombeki, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches said he had been looking to have this kind of engagement not only with Europe but also the Arab peninsula. He posed the question: What is our messaging to churches on the reality of migration and its consequences?”

Prof. Goos Minderman, moderator of ChurchesCommission for Migrants in Europe, noted that the forum was long overdue. "Migration is difficult at multiple levels—the one moving, those left behind, those met in transit, and finally those met at destination,” Minderman said. He concluded with a statement about how churches help people in need.

Dietrich Gerstner of the Evangelical Church in Northern Germany, noted a strong Afro-diaspora in Hamburg and highlighted the strong refugee work done by the church. He noted two critical questions from participants: "How can the churches in Germany or Europe begin to reflect the demographic changes visible in wider society and accept that it is possible to be German without being white?” and What is wrong with being Black—why can't we be accepted and integrated fully even into the third, fourth, or fifth generation?”

Recommendations for action address, among many other issues, the treatment of African migrants in Europe being tainted with racist attitudes and policies that see them not getting the best reception. Participants challenged churches to improve their diakonia towards migrants.

Other crucial issues include the female African migrants suffering doubly because of gender and racial prejudices, and children suffering doubly for not being European enough and also not being African enough.”

Participants also encouraged churches to open up safe spaces where migrants can share their traumatic experiences to begin healing.