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Coptic Orthodox Church Leader Issues Statement on Refugee Crisis in Europe: 'Their Plight Must Not be Belittled or Ignored'

Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, has issued a sobering statement on the refugee crisis in Europe, charging that it is of utmost importance that the plight of these refugees is not "belittled or ignored."
Tens of thousands of refugees are forced to choose between dire living conditions or perilous return home. Reuters

Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, has issued a sobering statement on the refugee crisis in Europe, charging that it is of utmost importance that the plight of these refugees is not "belittled or ignored."

"Having seen heartbreaking images of the lifeless and abandoned body of young Aylan Kurdi lying alone on a beach in Turkey puts an all too gruesome optic to a matter either in the forefront or background of every mind over the past months. The images we have now become too accustomed to seeing may have desensitised some, but the horrific reality of the situation remains; thousands of people continue to risk all, even their lives, to seek the safety that we are thankfully free to live on a daily basis.

Whether it is Aylan, his family, or the countless thousands of others making the treacherous journey to flee conflict and find a better life, we must now realise that the solution to this crisis is greater than for individual Churches, religions, communities, or even states to address alone, and so a more universal, integrated and collaborative approach is needed to make the best of limited human and material resources, must be sought.

The Church of Egypt is no stranger to the issue of asylum as it was Egypt that accepted and embraced the infant Christ and His family as refugees when they fled targeted and intentional persecution. It is indeed telling that while the world has apparently progressed over millennia since then, the problems and challenges remain the same.

As a Church with its roots in the Middle East we are very aware of the struggles faced by people in the region, Christians and others. It is essential that the plight of these refugees is not belittled or ignored, as they face very real challenges in their homelands, living with a daily threat to their livelihood and even existence.

At a time of increasing economic pressure in Europe and a greater fear of importing radical elements seeking to destabilise our communities, it is understandable that caution must be exercised. Having said that however, that caution should not mean a blanket rejection of the vast majority of those coming who are genuinely seeking safety for themselves and their families. What is concerning is abrasive rhetoric in the media and public sphere, leading to the constant dehumanisation of people who are undoubtedly victims of this conflict, to the extent that many now see them simply as an impending risk to their communities, putting aside their basic rights and needs. What we must realise is that many of these people, indigenous to their homelands, are not fleeing out of choice or preference but out of sheer necessity.

This is undoubtedly an extremely complex issue that involves geo-politics, global economics, European economies and borders, state and regional security, as well as an increasingly volatile Middle East, but as I have mentioned previously, we must not be prescriptive to people living in crisis on whether or not they should stay and fight in their war-torn countries, or flee for their lives. Whatever their choices may be, we must advocate to either safeguard their continued presence or provide an alternative if they cease to see a viable continuity in their homelands.

It is encouraging, that over the past few days there has been a greater intention and appetite for a pragmatic and compassionate response to this increasing refugee crisis in seeking practical solutions whatever they may be.

The Scriptures are timeless in their direction, and when the Lord God instructs His people to care for the widow, orphan, traveller and stranger (Deuteronomy 10:18) that was not meant exclusively for His immediate audience alone, but to the whole of humanity over time.

These challenging events remind us of the brokenness of our humanity, but as Christians we also recognise the ability of God to heal that brokenness. For that reason, we pray confidently for solutions in the homelands of those fleeing, the countries that may extend whatever hospitality they can, and above all, safety for many who make these dangerous journeys out of sheer desperation."