Engagement With Migrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers in Europe
By Nicodemus Doe*
As a Global Mission Fellow with Global Ministries, I was delighted to embark on two years of mission service in Belgium. The experience is enriching my faith and exposing me to different cultures, faiths, and people and the challenges some of our brothers, sisters, and children face in the context of migration. I am a Safe Passage Project Assistant, doing my part along with partners to witness and accompany the migrant population by advocating with and for theirs rights. The Safe Passage project is holistic in mission as a response to Europe’s unprecedented influx of migrants—and the associated tragedies that have claimed the lives of thousands of men, women, and children.
Safe Passage is a project of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) to respond to the ongoing migration and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Thousands have lost their lives in search of protection and security in the past years. The project connects local work in border monitoring with political advocacy for a humane asylum and migration policy.
Refugees and migrants study a map in the city park on the Greek island of Chios. The park is full of tents sheltering refugees who crossed the Aegean Sea in small boats from Turkey. They were registered and provided with food and shelter in a reception center built with support from International Orthodox Christian Charities, a member of the ACT Alliance.
PHOTO: PAUL JEFFREY
The work of CCME addresses refugee protection, labor migration, human trafficking, unity in diversity, inclusive communities, migration, and development. CCME actively monitors and speaks out against any form of expulsion, detention, or removal of migrants and asylum seekers (women, men, and children) that would violate such a person’s rights. As one of its mandates, CCME is committed to promoting awareness-raising on issues of racism and xenophobia within churches and in society; it monitors the situation of migrants, refugees, and minority ethnic people at local, national, and international levels.
The Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) is an ecumenical organization that serves the churches in their commitment to promote the vision of an inclusive community through advocating for an adequate policy for migrants, refugees, and minority groups at European and national levels. In the fulfilment of this mandate, it is responding to the message of the Bible, which insists on the dignity of every human being, and to the understanding of unity as devoid of any distinction between strangers and natives.
MISSION STATEMENT, CCME, FOUNDED IN 1964
Safe Passage Project
For CCME to realize Safe Passage in practice, we must call on European governments
and institutions, such as the European Commission, parliaments, and the Council of Europe, to implement the following modes of Safe Passage.
Nicodemus Doe, far left, with staff of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) at a meeting in Athens, Greece. PHOTO: COURTESY NICODEMUS DOE
Maintaining civilian search and rescue operation at sea—This helps save the lives of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe on unworthy sea boats.
Guaranteeing access to asylum procedures in the European Union (EU) and decent and adequate reception conditions—Guaranteed access helps deter people who need international protection from opting for smugglers’ assistance to enter Europe. Standard hygienic and safe reception environments would lead to better health conditions and encourage other basic social services while asylum seekers await their cases.
Increasing placements for resettlement—A solidarity approach helps relieve the burden from neighboring and low-income countries that host large numbers of refugees.
Issuing humanitarian visas—Such visas help asylum seekers take regular flights, allowing them to travel with dignity to the EU and then start their asylum procedures upon arrival.
Suspending visa requirements for refugees fleeing from areas of war and dictatorship—This, again, would enable refugees to take regular flights and travel safely instead of seeking out smugglers and taking the dangerous maritime voyage.
Providing more flexible and generous opportunities for family reunification—Offering short duration visits and lifting requirements that make family reunification difficult, costly, and lengthy counteracts the current process, which undermines the integration of asylum seekers who want family members to join them.
Mutually recognizing positive asylum decisions within EU and Schengen member states—If a person’s refugee status from one member state can be recognized in another one, integration will be more successful, as all benefits, access to labor markets, and other EU protections would apply. Currently, 26 member states have signed the agreement forged in Schengen, Luxembourg, abolishing passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders. The Schengen area functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy.
Establishing a fair sharing of responsibility for refugee reception among EU Member States—An EU-solidarity aspect that accelerates the processing for asylum claims would help frontline member states, such as Greece and Italy, which host large numbers of asylum seekers.
Learning the CCME Beat
My involvement with CCME as a GMF has motivated me to put my faith into action during and after my service. I like the work and enjoy doing it because it’s helping on some level to alleviate human suffering.
Interestingly, I do not work because I know the people we are standing in solidarity with; but rather because of the whole gospel message of Matthew 25:35-40.
I have met lots of interesting people. Some are happy and some frustrated with the circumstances surrounding their daily lives. For instance, during a recent meeting in Brussels, I met with people who share my interest on common topics—such as addressing policy issues (invisible walls/policy barriers) to protect migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers’ rights. At these meetings, we drink coffee, laugh, make new friends, and we are housed in a decent building, free to move across borders as many times as we wish, inside and outside Europe, safely.
A refugee mother helps her daughter put on dry shoes on a beach near Molyvos, on the Greek island of Lesbos, October 2015, after they crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey in a small overcrowded boat provided by Turkish traffickers to whom the refugees paid huge sums. They were received in Greece by local and international volunteers, then proceeded on their way toward western Europe. PHOTO: PAUL JEFFREY
By contrast, I visited the Netherlands and Greece to attend conferences with CCME executives and other members who provide services to migrants. In the Netherlands, protracted asylum seekers we met there were being assisted by the Protestant Church of Netherlands, which was helping them to integrate and providing other social services, such as languages courses. One of our dinners was prepared by some long-waiting asylum seekers who didn’t know what their future would look like, or even their case duration. They are not allowed to move outside the country, or even from the city, like other asylum seekers in Europe. During the dinner, we shared our love and joy together by eating with them, listening to some of their stories, and, perhaps, giving them a little hope and comfort.
When I traveled with CCME staff to visit Athens, Greece, we saw people, young and old, literally camped out in reception centers. I asked myself why they should be isolated from society. I observed that in both countries, despite the unpleasant plight migrants and refugees face, many manage to keep the smile of hope. The support of CCME national members in both countries was visible and making a difference.
Migration and the Church in Europe
I’ve witnessed some of the hardships and abuses that people caught up in forced migration face on their way to Europe from both African and Middle Eastern countries. These I gathered mostly from stories told by those who made the journey as I attended conferences and seminars in the context of migration, asylum, and the church in Europe. I’ve also experienced within the churches an ecumenical working spirit toward migrants and refugees and multiple efforts to welcome them. I have learned to be in solidarity with uprooted people and be in ministry with them, and I’ve experienced the prophetic role of the church as a social justice advocacy agent.
Carefully watched by police, wait to walk through the Hungarian town of Hegyeshalom on their way to the border where they will cross into Austria. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants flowed through Hungary in 2015 on their way from Syria, Iraq, and other countries to western Europe. PHOTO: PAUL JEFFREY
The European churches here have taught me about holistic migration ministry at the local, national, and international level. Individuals and congregations here are living applied Christian values: actively demonstrating hospitality toward the stranger, while at the same time, supporting advocacy projects like Safe Passage, which aims to change and influence European immigration policy. I’m thankful to God, the global United Methodist Church family, and CCME for providing this cross-cultural mission opportunity. I’ve received much support and training, which has nurtured my faith to serve and love God and my neighbors. I’ve learned also to be a good steward for creation to help make the world a better place!
I would like to invite individuals and congregations to join us in mission by praying and being in solidarity with migrants and refugees, those working with them, and countries experiencing war and human rights abuses (“pull factors”) that serve as the main drivers for forced migration across Europe.
*Nicodemus Doe, from Sinoe County, Liberia (Advance #3022069), holds a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Africa University in Zimbabwe and a Master in Religion, Society, and Global Issues from the MF Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo. Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME), based in Brussels, Belgium, represents churches and ecumenical groups from 18 countries and collaborates with the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Summer 2017 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.