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Lutheran and Catholic leaders call on EU to support refugees

Lutheran and Catholic bishops in the Nordic countries have issued an unprecedented joint statement urging Europe’s leaders to act responsibly towards refugees fleeing from violence and conflict. Seeking asylum is a human right, they insist and EU member States have both a legal commitment and a moral obligation to support people escaping from oppression and persecution.

The 9 March message was signed by heads of the Catholic and Lutheran churches in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. It comes in response to growing tensions on the border between Turkey and Greece, where thousands of refugees, mainly from Syria, are attempting to cross into Europe by land and sea.

In the statement, the Christian leaders note that complex political, cultural and economic problems are at play, raising “legitimate concerns and fears.” But these should “not keep us trapped and prevent us from taking responsibility,” they say.

How the situation on the Turkish-Greek border is handled “will have a bearing on Europe’s identity for a long time to come,” adds Archbishop Antje Jackelén, head of the Church of Sweden and LWF Vice-President for the Nordic countries.

Need for personal and shared responsibility

In this season of Lent, the bishops say, "our physical and mental boundaries are being tested by the spread of the new corona virus and the developing refugee situation on the external borders of Europe.” Common to both challenges, they continue, is the need for personal and shared responsibility “irrespective of political positions.” Burdens should be shared and shouldered jointly, they insist, because “if we fail, we lose our humanity.”

The Catholic and Lutheran leaders remind European heads of state that the EU is the result of a peace project. “We will never succeed in keeping our own countries safe and secure,” they warn, “if we fail to help solve the situations of conflict and oppression, climate crisis and poverty that force people to flee.”

Describing the current crisis as “a political gamble with people’s lives,” the statement urges EU leaders to take “legal, financial and political responsibility" for those fleeing from the fighting in Syria’s Idlib province.

Listen to popular opinion

While acknowledging that “borders cannot simply be opened” and that unchecked immigration is not a solution, the bishops insist that "We are jointly responsible for ensuring that life can be lived in those countries currently beset by war and poverty.”

Decrying a “breakdown of belief in the future, a loss of universal values and human dignity, and short-sighted politics on all sides,” the bishops urge EU leaders to listen to popular opinion in their own countries, which – according to a recent survey - shows “humanity and solidarity” with people on the run from conflict and violence.

These voices of ordinary citizens must be heard and acted upon, the church leaders conclude, because “we are one human race under God, living together under the same sky.”