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Church Agencies Highlight Growing Urgency of Europe’s Refugee Crisis

04 Sep 2015 – By Jonathan Luxmoore

OXFORD, England (CNS) — Catholic aid agencies have urged Europeans not to turn against migrants seeking refuge from Syria and other countries, in what media reports describe as the continent’s greatest refugee movement since World War II.

“The crisis in Syria is now in its fifth year, and the neighboring countries where we’ve been providing assistance are running out of resources,” said Kim Pozniak, communications officer for Catholic Relief Services, the Baltimore-based U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency. She said countries such as Lebanon and Turkey are sheltering 3.5 million Syrians and “can no longer carry the burden of sheer numbers.”

“People have realized they won’t be going home and turned to the European Union for longer-term solutions. While they’ve been shown compassion in some countries, this hasn’t been the case everywhere.”

“These people aren’t just migrating to Europe in search of a better life for their children: They’re fleeing to protect them and save their lives, and this is something everyone can relate to,” she said.

European Union foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss new responses to the crisis on 4 September, and the government of Hungary attempted to control thousands of migrants camped at a railway station in the capital, Budapest.

Pozniak told Catholic News Service on 3 September that CRS and other Catholic agencies had been given migrants food and water, as well as medical and legal help, on the main routes through Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia.

She added that church-backed organizations would aid all refugees without distinction, after some East European bishops called for priority to be given to Christians.

“The church doesn’t distinguish between faiths and religions — we assist everyone on the basis of needs, whatever their background,” Pozniak told CNS. ”The church in the Middle East and the Balkans has been responding to this crisis for years, and to the church no human being is illegal. We’re called to preserve their dignity by not letting them sleep in parks and train stations.”

Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, urged Europe to build facilities to accept the migrants and to admit up to 200,000 refugees, with mandatory participation by all EU member-states.

However, in Hungary on 4 September, members of parliament debated whether to declare a state of emergency as a tense stand-off continued between police and refugees in and around Budapest, and as work was completed on a 110-mile razor-wire wall closing the country’s southern frontier with Serbia.

The national deputy director of the Hungarian church’s Caritas charity, Richard Zagyva, told CNS on 4 September the 12-foot wall was intended to prevent ”mass unregulated border crossings,” rather than to block out all migrants. He said Caritas hoped to continue providing aid once the refugees had been placed in camps for processing.

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Tags: Refugees War Migrants