Today the countries of Europe are confronted with the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. But compassion and action seem to be tragically insufficient to meet the pressing need. This is so despite the tragedies reported daily from the shores and borders of Europe – let alone from the countries from which these people have been forced to flee by conflict, oppression and extreme poverty.
It is now absolutely and critically necessary that all European states take their proper responsibility in terms of reception and support for people seeking refuge, safety and a better future for themselves and their families. This cannot be left only to the states where they enter first.
Taking responsibility for human beings in desperate need must be done without discrimination on any criteria other than their needs. We are shocked to hear of some countries rejecting refugees on the basis of their religion.
Today, Europe – both West and East – is being tested on the strength of its commitment to human dignity and rights. This is a test of our human values and Christian legacy.
Some churches are taking a lot of responsibility in this situation, even beyond their capacities. WCC member churches in many of the affected countries are providing support to refugees and migrants, and raising the awareness of their congregations and state authorities to the need for a compassionate response, in spite of limited resources and of their own difficulties. The WCC encourages churches in countries of arrival, transit and ultimate destination in their efforts to welcome the stranger, and to model a compassionate response to people in such desperate need. We need ecumenical cooperation in these efforts, in order to ensure that they make the greatest possible contribution to alleviating this terrible suffering.
The WCC and its member churches’ commitment to supporting refugees and displaced people is part of its original condition and calling. When the World Council of Churches came into existence in 1948, the disastrous humanitarian impacts of the Second World War were still a very present reality. The international community was still struggling to cope with the massive population displacements caused by conflict and crimes against humanity. Churches and their specialized ministries were key actors in the humanitarian response to this unprecedented suffering, and have continued to be in the forefront of assisting refugees and immigrants, from emergency relief to long-term support.
This commitment is shown in many parts of the world also today. During these last days I have seen how the churches in Latin America are responding to the situation of migrants and internally displaced people in their own contexts.
The WCC continues to challenge churches worldwide to rediscover their identity, their integrity and their vocation as the church of the stranger. For we are the Church of Jesus Christ, the child refugee (cf. Mathew 2:13).
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35.
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
WCC general secretary