Faith leaders speak out after emergency refugee summit

Sally Foster Fulton and Salah Beltagui
Rev Sally Foster Fulton and Salah Beltagui of the Muslim Council of Scotland say the emergency summit on refugee crisis called by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was a positive first step toward action.

The Church of Scotland is working with the Scottish government and third sector groups to take immediate compassionate action on the refugee crisis as thousands of families fleeing confict in Syria continue to arrive in Europe.

Rev Sally Foster Fulton, convener of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council and Salah Beltagui of the Muslim Council of Scotland attended an emergency meeting called by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this morning, Friday 4 September at the Scottish Government's headquarters in Edinburgh.

After the meeting they said immediate action is needed to help the refugees fleeing into Europe. They also expressed hope that refugees will be welcomed into Scotland through the united efforts of government, third sector organisations and ordinary people who want to help.

Mrs Foster Fulton said: "There is a big hesitation to play the numbers game, to say there is a magic number and when we reach it we have done our job. and we can stop.

"This is a crisis and you have got to be brave. Compassion seems to increase capacity and Scotland has a great deal of assets and we will cope if we let compassion be the leader.

"This crisis is about all of us and it will take all of us to help solve it."

Earlier this week, Mrs Foster-Fulton responded to Ms Sturgeon's call for the UK to provide shelter to 10,000 Middle East refugees, saying:

"It is a good start and we absolutely welcome it," the convener said. "These refugees are coming from some of the most desperate situations imaginable. By opening our minds, our hearts and our borders, by welcoming them as the family they are, we display our true identity, members of a global community and a country who lives out radical hospitality and compassion.

"We would welcome the Scottish Government's commitment to take more than a share of 10,000 people. Compared to the numbers other countries are accepting, it is not that many and the Church of Scotland would be ready to explore how we can help."

"Church members continue to donate generously to improve the lives of those seeking aid beyond our shores. Now we should start thinking about what we can do more locally to practically welcome those who may seek shelter in our local communities."

Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison, Moderator of the General Assembly has said he views the current situation;not as a problem, but as the answer to a prayer.

"The women, children and men currently turning up on the shores of Europe in their hundreds of thousands are, for many of us, an answer to prayer.

"Amongst them are the very people whose safe passage from war-ravaged and persecuted regions many of us have been praying for.

"People do not choose to cram themselves into boats and lorries, to cut their way through razor wire fences, to live in refugee camps or to try to make it through the Channel Tunnel into the UK unless what they are trying to escape from is utterly terrifying. We have an absolute obligation to help."

Last month, Dr Morrison issued a statement calling for a compassionate approach to the crisis and a change in policy.

Dr Morrison said UK ministers must accept that most asylum seekers could not be returned to their countries of origin and the UK should follow in the footsteps of other European nations who have opened their borders to help fellow human beings in extremity.

He pointed out that in 2014, Germany took three times more asylum seekers than the UK's 14,000 and Sweden accepted twice as many. France, Italy and even Switzerland also granted asylum to more people than the UK;

Dr Morrison said: "Our Scriptures teach the importance of love and compassion for all who are destitute, including people of other nationalities who come to live in our communities."

He pointed out that the UK had been militarily involved in some of the situations that had given rise to the kind of persecution and repression from which people were fleeing.

"We believe it is important that public debate is grounded in values of compassion and that decisions are made on the basis of facts.

"In recent weeks discussion has increasingly appeared to be based on the principle of self-interest. Our faith instructs us not to fear the stranger, but to love our neighbour. As Christian churches we follow 'One 'who was himself a refugee and who demonstrated that all people have an inherent, God-given dignity.

"To talk of those gathering at Calais as a 'swarm', or 'marauding around the area' encourages people to see those in desperation as less than human, and so less deserving of sympathy, respect or dignity."

The Moderator also signed a joint statement with three other churches condemning the use of dehumanising language, calling for policy change and urging the government to:

  • Recognise that most refugees cannot be returned to their country of origin: in many cases it is not even possible to be certain of an individual's country of origin due to a lack of documentation;
  • Promote the establishment of proper, EU-run processing centres at key entry points in Europe (such as southern Italy and Greece);
  • Accept the need for the UK to take its share of refugees as other European countries are already doing.
  • At the same time the Church is offering practical help and aid through the Out of Africa… into Malta project, where St Andrew's Scots Kirk in Valetta is supporting refugees who reach the island. The Church of Scotland Guild has raised more than £107,000 for the Out of Africa…into Malta project.