Is the Archbishop right saying Britain’s refugee policy risks discriminating against Syrian Christians?
Archbishop Justin Welby recently claimed the government’s refugee plans risk discriminating against Christians in Syria as they are “forced to flee” the UN refugee camps out of fear of persecution. Here’s what Nicola McIver has to say.
Since the tragic photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi were published on 3 September, the Syrian refugee crisis has become regular global front page news. The pictures introduced a heartbreakingly human dimension of the crisis, and caused a social movement in support for refugees. The developments of the past month have raised questions of our European governments – even our humanity.
Without a doubt, the most alarming aspect is just how impotent Europe has been in dealing with the influx of asylum seekers. Last month saw the UK offer only 20,000 Syrians asylum before 2020. Some – although I would like to think most, including myself – had hoped that this would take place over a far shorter period of time. It simply does not go far enough in assisting the 3,000,000 refugees in need of immediate asylum or the strain on the countries bordering Syria. Should there be more pressure on the wealthy Gulf States to welcome refugees? Yes – but that’s for another time.
Worryingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has also shown further concern that the government’s refugee policy risks inadvertently discriminating against Christians facing the greatest risk of religious persecution in Syria.
Last month, Archbishop Welby spoke to David Cameron and warned that the government’s plans to take refugees directly from UN camps in Syria and bordering countries risks completely excluding an entire population of Christians from the asylum program, who had been “forced to flee” the camps.
Although EU policy prevents the discrimination, or favour, of any one religious group, Archbishop Welby made the point that offering sanctuary only to refugees from these camps would lead to the same crime.
Former Archbishop, Lord Carey, wrote in The Daily Telegraph that the government had “yet again” left Christians “at the bottom of the heap”. Religious minorities, including Christians, are hiding in private homes, in churches, or with friends and family – not inside the UN camps where, as Archbishop Welby says, they risk “intimidation and radicalisation” and are targeted and pushed out by rogue Islamist groups. Not where they are being crucified, beheaded, raped, and subjected to forced conversion. Not where the so-called Islamic State and other radical groups are glorifying the massacre of infidels.
Also, last month, an alliance of 14 faith groups urged governments around the world to recognise the “gravity of the threat” to Christians and other minority groups, in Syria and Iraq, should they choose not to prioritise the evacuation of those groups.
Representatives of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and other communities joined forces at an emergency summit in London to support an evacuation of Christians from Syria through Operation Safe Havens. The organisation was formed by the Christian charity the Barnabas Fund, who has so far removed 42 Christian families from Damascus to Poland.
Some have questioned whether this is just another covert way to discriminate against Muslim refugees in fear of integration problems, which has been one of the major (and much less covert) topics in some EU states, such as Slovakia, Hungary, and Finland.
To those people, I say that this is something separate to the religious and racial preferences of the bigoted: this is a crisis in itself. Is it not the right thing to do? To prioritise those whose lives are at the greatest risk in the face of Islamic State?