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European bishops call for common asylum policy for refugees

MANCHESTER (CNS): “We cannot accept that people drown and suffocate at the borders of Europe. Building barbed-wire fences and walls to prevent refugees from entering Europe is not a solution,” the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) said in a statement on September 10, a day after meeting in Munich, Germany.

A common asylum policy for the European Union (EU) would prevent countries from keeping out migrants, the commission said.

“If we can solve an economic crisis at an overnight EU extraordinary summit, then it should be just as easy with this crisis, especially when the fate of so many people is at stake. After all, the question of a common solution to the refugee crisis is also an issue that directly affects the values and the future of Europe,” the statement said.

Reinhard Cardinal Marx from Munich-Freising, Germany, COMECE president; Auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols from Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium, COMECE vice-president; and Bishop Gianni Ambrosio, from Piacenzo-Bobbio, Italy, signed the statement.

The mass movement of refugees has exposed flaws in the Dublin system, which requires them to seek asylum in the EU state in which they arrive, because several states, including Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic, process the applications of the new arrivals rather than attempt to return them to Italy or Greece, the statement noted.

The COMECE leaders also criticised those EU states trying to keep out the migrants. “It is a Christian duty to help the refugees, whatever their origin or religion,” they stressed.

The United Kingdom has invested in security and fencing to stop migrants entering from France through the Channel Tunnel while Hungary is building a fortified fence along its southern border with Serbia.

The European bishops suggested that new regulations were needed to bring such countries into line with those states welcoming refugees, such as Germany, which effectively is operating an open-door policy.

“The situation in the countries of coveted destination ... shows that it is not possible to go on without a European regulation. The fact that some countries are seeking to disengage entirely from their responsibility is unacceptable,” the COMECE statement said.

“After all, the European Union is founded on the solidarity of Europeans among themselves. The refugee problem is a common challenge and therefore requires a common European solution,” the bishops continued.

The statement said it is “shocking that this situation also causes harassment and hostility towards refugees,” and added: “We must firmly oppose this.”

The Church leaders said they welcomed attempts by the European Commission to impose mandatory quotas of refugees on member states so that burden was shared equally among them.

The plan has met with opposition from many EU countries, especially among the newer member states in central and eastern Europe.

Pope Francis and most of the European bishops have expressed sympathy, with the pope saying, “I address my brother bishops of Europe, true pastors, so that in their dioceses they back my appeal, remembering that mercy is the second name of love.” 

The European bishops expressed their appreciation of “the spirit of solidarity and helpfulness so many Europeans have shown in the reception extended to refugees. We thank all those who are committed to ensuring that refugees are received with humanity and warmth in a spirit of compassion and Christian charity—regardless of whether or not their asylum claims are ultimately recognised.”

However, one Hungarian bishop, quoted in the Washington Post on September 7, questioned whether they could be rightly called refugees.

“They’re not refugees. This is an invasion,” said Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo from Szeged-Csanad, Hungary. “They come here with cries of Allahu Akbar (God is great). They want to take over.” 

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