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How to Deal with Refugees’ Plight in Europe?


A special report from the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.

Academics are calling it Europe’s “migrant” crisis, and some sympathetic media are terming it as the continent’s “refugee” crisis, both focusing on the “problem” faced by Europe. Lost in these analyses is the suffering of nearly 600,000 people, some of them Christian, who, fleeing war, persecution and oppression, have crossed the dangerous Mediterranean Sea to reach a region that is unwilling to give them asylum.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that at least 3,100 people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, due to bad weather conditions and overcrowded vessels of smugglers and human traffickers they used to cross the sea. And many of the tens of thousands, including women and children, who have made it to Europe are being detained without food or water. Others are being abused or exploited, as they remain without shelter or hope.

The governments of the frontline states of Greece and Italy as well as the European Union are faced with an unusual situation, not knowing what to do with the people who are arriving not only from Syria, but also from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq.

More than 450,000 people have arrived by sea to Greece, of which at least 277,899 are from Syria, 76,620 from Afghanistan, 21,552 from Iraq, and 14,323 from Pakistan. In Italy, the number of arrivals is at least 137,313, of which 35,938 are from Eritrea, 17,886 from Nigeria, 10,050 from Somalia, 8,370 from Sudan, and 7,072 from Syria.

How they are treated depends on how we see them. In international law, which provides for assistance and protection for those fleeing persecution or conflict, an asylum seeker is someone whose claims are yet to be proven, after which they can be called refugee. An economic migrant, on the other hand, is someone who arrives in a foreign land for economic gain.

Given the nationalities of these people, they all appear to be legitimate asylum seekers, and must be treated accordingly.

Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is mindlessly killing civilians in Syria amid a bloody civil war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and has captured large territories in Iraq. The targeted killings and persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq are nothing less than genocide. More than 700,000 of Syria’s Christian population of 1.1 million have been displaced due to attacks by ISIS. And in Iraq, at least 125,000 Christians have fled their homes in the Nineveh Plains to the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Afghans are fleeing attacks in the wake of insurgencies by the Taliban and Islamic State’s local affiliate. Eritreans are running away from forced lifelong military conscripts by their authoritarian government.

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Category: Fall 2015, Living the Faith

About the Author: Fernando Perez is a writer, researcher, and analyst for World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC).

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