Minister reflects on refugee crisis facing Greece

Refugees making haste for European shores.

Churches across Europe are working hard to counter the rise of anti-refugee sentiment in a bid to make the continent a place of safety, a Kirk minister has said.

The Rev Sandy Horsburgh, secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches in Europe, said the organisation planned to set up a working group to help member churches assist men, women and children fleeing war and persecution.

He spoke out after hearing first-hand about the impact the refugee crisis is having on Greece at the annual meeting of the WCRC in Switzerland, which was attended by about 40 faith leaders from across Europe.


Mr Horsburgh of St Nicholas Buccleuch Parish Church in Dalkeith near Edinburgh attended the gathering near Zurich with the Rev Alison McDonald, Convener of the Kirk's Ecumenical Relations Committee, and heard "moving stories" about how member churches are trying to help refugees.

Around 2,000 Syrian refugees are expected to settle in Scotland by 2020 – about 10% of the UK total.

The issue is high up the Kirk's agenda and the Moderator of the General Assembly the Right Rev Dr Angus Morrison recently urged Home Secretary Theresa May to provide sanctuary for more men, women and children fleeing persecution.

Reflecting on the AGM last month, Mr Horsburgh said: "The Council heard moving stories of how member churches are trying to help refugees.

"There are about 76,000 stuck on the border between Greece and Macedonia, unable to move on.

"A further 1,200 are arriving in Greece each week."

sandyhorsburgh The Rev Sandy Horsburgh.


Mr Horsburgh said the Evangelical Church of Greece, a denomination of about 4,000 members, was providing about a thousand meals a day to refugees.

"Other churches and agencies are working alongside them," he added.

"They are also providing thousands of tonnes of wood for burning.

"In the winter, Greece is not a hot country but they are dreading the summer.

"Tourists, a mainstay of the Greek economy, are being put off coming.

"Farmers are beginning to want to plant their fields, but cannot because of the thousands camped on them."

Mr Horsburgh said the situation would limit Greece's ability to feed itself and the refugees there.

"Worst of all, when summer comes, the camps, which are already stinking and insanitary, will become fertile breeding grounds for cholera and dysentery and other diseases," he added.

"We also heard about what other churches, in countries further up the migration route, are doing, particularly in Germany and Sweden, to welcome refugees and help them integrate into their new homes.

"Much work is also being done by churches to counter the rise of anti-refugee sentiment, and to try to make our continent a place of refuge and safety.

"The Council agreed to set up a working group to encourage and assist member churches in trying to meet the needs of migrants and refugees."

The Kirk is working with Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Interfaith groups as part of the Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees.


Mr Horsburgh said the WCRC, which has around 225 member churches worldwide, also discussed a proposal for the World Communion to associate with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ).

"This is a document which was agreed by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999 and with which the World Methodist Council associated in 2006," he added.

"The JDDJ aims to find ways of moving on from many of the disagreements which arose at the time of the Reformation.

"There is a proposal that the WCRC, representing other churches of the Reformation, may find a way of associating with that document as a way of marking the 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation, which falls next year in 2017."