“You see the consequences of war which is forcing millions of people to leave their land,” said Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, ACT Alliance general secretary, noting the heightened risk for human trafficking and forced labor.
“We heard from ACT members and from church workers that the first wave of refugees were mainly people with healthy financial situations and good connections in Europe,” he said, while a second wave comprised people with fewer resources.
“The third wave we are facing now is of people without any resources,” he said. “During the visit we could see the distinctive role that church and faith-based organizations played in the emergency response so far.”
Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary, said that the reason church response is able to happen is because many churches are well-equipped structurally to quickly turn compassion into actions that address human need, wherever it occurs.
“When in Hungary and in Romania, we heard the churches telling us that they were among the first ones to respond to the crisis at the borders,” she said. “For me, it’s not so much the churches responding to this particular issue—it’s because they already have structures in the churches to respond to any humanitarian need.”
Those structures have been used with a sense of caring and mission by churches that have responded, for example, to COVID-19 and other disasters, she added. “They are using the same structures to respond now to the humanitarian needs of the refugees coming out of Ukraine.”
Peter Prove, WCC director of international affairs, commented on the large dimension of this humanitarian catastrophe. “I think the latest figures we have heard from UN sources are something approaching 10 million people are displaced as a result of this conflict, both refugees crossing the borders into other countries, and internally displaced within Ukraine.”
That amounts to one quarter of the population of Ukraine, he said. “That really sets the dimensions of this crisis in perspective,” he said.
Prove took a moment to celebrate the response of local churches. “This welcome, organized at the local level by local communities and local churches, is incredibly warm and incredibly hospitable, and that is very much to be celebrated,” he said.
All three speakers emphasized the need for the same level of hospitality and care for people of color and others who are not receiving equal consideration as they, too, flee Ukraine.
The press briefing was moderated by Simon Chambers, director of communication ACT Alliance and Marianne Ejdersten, WCC director of communication.
Church response to refugees, “I’m seeing the image of God in you” (WCC press release, 22 March 2022)
ACT Alliance, WCC delegation visits Hungary, Ukraine and Romania with a focus on humanitarian needs, church response (WCC press release of 18 March 2022)
Churches respond to growing humanitarian needs in Ukraine and bordering countries (WCC news release, 11 March 2022)
WCC appalled by escalating impact on civilians of conflict in Ukraine (WCC news release, 11 March 2022)
WCC acting general secretary to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow: “raise up your voice so that the war can be stopped” (WCC press release, 2 March 2022)
WCC urges President Putin to stop war, restore peace to Ukraine (WCC press release of 25 February 2022)