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Bishop Paul Addresses General Synod
Bishop Paul Addresses General Synod

The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham made a speech at the Church of England General Synod, in London Wednesday 25th November 2015 to introduce the Migration Crisis debate in which The General Synod has given its overwhelming backing to work by parishes and dioceses to support the resettlement of vulnerable Syrian refugees, in a debate focusing on the humanitarian response to the migrant crisis.

The full context of the speech and supporting documents can be found on the Church of England website here: and here:

The item was passed with an amendment. 

The Church of England Press Release to accompany this debate follows and is also available here: [https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2015/11/general-synod-backs-work-to-help-vulnerable-refugees.aspx]

General Synod backs work to help vulnerable refugees

The General Synod has given its overwhelming backing to work by parishes and dioceses to support the resettlement of vulnerable Syrian refugees, in a debate focusing on the humanitarian response to the migrant crisis.

 

Members of the General Synod approved a motion welcoming the scale of aid provided by the Government for those suffering as a result of the conflict in Syria but called for significantly more Syrian refugees to be allowed to resettle in this country than the Government’s target of 20,000 over five years.

 

The Synod urged parishes and dioceses to work in partnership with local authorities and other community organisations to provide practical help for the resettlement of vulnerable refugees and to pray for all those seeking both to address the causes as well as the symptoms of the crisis.

 

Synod members called upon the Government to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure that vulnerability to religiously motivated persecution is taken into account when determining who is received into Britain.

 

The motion also called upon the Government to work with international partners in Europe and elsewhere to help establish safe and legal routes to places of safety, including this country, for refugees who are vulnerable and at severe risk.

 

Members of the General Synod further voted to call upon the Government to take a ‘fair and proportionate’ share of refugees now within the European Union, particularly those with family already legally resident in the UK.

 

Moving the motion, Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, spoke of work already under way by Anglicans to help vulnerable refugees both in Britain and in Europe. He added that it was ‘hard to imagine’ a list of British values which did not include the word ‘hospitality’ – which stands ‘close to the heart of the Christian gospel’.

 

“Many in the churches believe that, if we put our backs into working with others to create the capacity, we can make 20,000 a number that can be comfortably exceeded,” he said.

 

“After all, it is not money that will do most to enable people driven from Syria to make new lives. It is practical care from a community, inviting them in, suggesting in many practical ways the possibility of hope and the promise of safety.” 

The full speech

Speech introducing debate on the Migration Crisis

Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham

There are around 60 million people forcibly displaced in the world. They become refugees through persecution, violence and war. In Burundi over 200,000 have fled the country and tens of thousands are internally displaced since the violence that began in April. The story goes unreported here because they will not arrive in Europe. But 8 million internally displaced in Syria and 4 million who have fled into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, then some on to Europe – that directly affects us. So too those fleeing Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Southern Sudan. 800,000 have arrived in Europe this year, around 3,200 have died trying to reach Europe.

 

The numbers are approximate. But God knows exactly how many there are. God knows everyone of them by name; each one made in God’s image and someone for whom Christ died.

 

It seems an age since the picture of the body of a three-year-old boy, washed up on a Turkish shore, marked a decisive shift in the public mood.

 

Then the horror of 129 people killed in one night, and perhaps another shift in the public mood. We have wept and prayed over those deaths. Cruel, murderous violence is terrible whether on our doorstep or far distant, whether the ensuing death and suffering is witnessed in the streets of Paris or from the shores of Turkey, Lesbos or Lampedusa. All of this suffering is the cry of my neighbour. And in so many cases, our neighbours have had to flee their home.

 

There is a deep need for a generous and constructive discourse which develops a new understanding of the reality of global migration. Great regional migrations have marked past centuries; perhaps global migration is to be one of the marks of this century. Groups of Christians are meeting to work towards such a language, not least across the continent of Europe.

 

Our chief purpose in this debate, however, is less broad and ambitious. It is to talk about how we as God’s people respond to the practical opportunities which He gives us.

 

The British government has taken an impressive lead in aid to the region in which the vast majority of those suffering from displacement are still trying to survive. If this lead were followed by many other countries, the challenge would become less daunting. There would be more hope of people believing they can make a life within the region. Bitter winter conditions are now beginning to descend on those without homes.

 

It was also welcome when the Prime Minister made a commitment to receive 20,000 Syrians, whose risks and needs are most acute, for resettlement in the UK. Most of us have seen this number as a good start. The Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed it, but as a ‘slim response’. 84 bishops wrote to the Prime Minister urging that we take more.

 

It is hard to imagine a list of British values which did not contain the word ‘hospitality’. It stands close to the heart of the Christian gospel. So many waves of people needing protection and help, over centuries and in living memory: Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese, Bosnians, Kosovans …; each time what began as a costly commitment by our country has ended as a creative enrichment of it. Hospitality does not involve an idealising of the guest: guests can be hard to understand, damaged, vulnerable, unfamiliar; but through their coming, healing can enter the house.

 

Many in the churches believe that, if we put our backs into working with others to create the capacity, we can make 20,000 a number that can be comfortably exceeded. After all, it is not money that will do most to enable people driven from Syria to make new lives. It is practical care from a community, inviting them in, suggesting in many practical ways the possibility of hope and the promise of safety.

 

When the College of Bishops met recently, it was exciting to hear how many dioceses were already building the local partnerships which ensure that solid, sustained support will be in place for those who are brought to our country, without disadvantaging those many others in need, including those seeking asylum, who are already being sacrificially helped.

 

The government has helpfully announced a forthcoming ‘private sponsorship’ scheme, based on similar schemes in Canada and elsewhere. This is very promising, but it must be implemented as supplementary to the 20,000-person resettlement operation which the government has pledged to arrange and fund.

 

The first thousand from Syria are arriving by Christmas. This phase is a stepping up of the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme which began early in 2014. The next phase is going to be a much bigger proposition. A government team is working hard to scale up the operation. The churches have been directly involved in this. I have taken on the role of co-chair of the National Refugee Welcome Board, which brings together many branches of civil society, including the main faiths. I am working closely with the Bishop of Croydon, who is Chair of the Churches’ Refugee Network. Meetings have taken place with the Government Ministers responsible for this area of work, and with officials who are responsible for detailed implementation. In this we work closely with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.

 

Under the resettlement programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees identifies those who are in most need of resettlement. This is what other countries are doing; it is right and fair. We need to be assured that it is fair to all, including Christians. We have no wish to accelerate an exodus of Christians from any part of the Middle East. We pray for the name of Jesus Christ to be uplifted in every land, not least those where the church has maintained its witness and developed its distinct local identity over long centuries.

 

And yet – there are Christian people who cannot be safe or flourish in any part of the Middle East which they can reach. There is a bond of mutual responsibility and love between Christian people the world over. Now we know from our Lord the way to do justice and love mercy, seeing the image of God in every person. The compassion which compels us to help the refugee will be blind to differences of creed as to colour or any other characteristic. For all that, it is right that we uphold the right of our fellow-Christians to fair treatment. Whether or not they are in refugee camps, easy or hard to find, they must suffer no discrimination as UNHCR seeks out those in greatest need of resettlement. Those whose suffering is exacerbated by religiously motivated persecution deserve to have that factor given full weight in the calculation of need.

 

In Durham this month, we welcomed 12 Lutheran clergy from the Nordkirche, Northern Germany. We shared Remembrance Sunday. We learned that some of those parishes are engaged in impressive work welcoming some of the refugees arriving in their areas – a million have come to Germany.   The churches have little support in this, and are very stretched. Some of our parishes are praying about supporting this work in Germany.

 

Our country is bound together with Europe in so many ways. We will do well to rediscover our common life with the churches of Europe. The Diocese in Europe, supported by Us, have been doing terrific work, with partner churches, on the front line of receiving refugees arriving in boats and by land. These refugees, whether in Calais or elsewhere in Europe, still demand our care. We shall not sleep easy if we pass by, as it were, on our side of the English Channel, and regard the fate of those in Europe as separate from our own.

 

The request for safe and legal routes to places of safety – not excluding the possibility that some of those now in Europe might come to Britain – is therefore the final element in the motion which is before the Synod.

 

I look forward to our debate, because I am sure we shall hear something of the eagerness and practical commitment with which dioceses and churches across the country are mobilising to meet these opportunities, responding to these terrible hurts and needs. I almost apologise for the length of the motion – almost, but not quite, for this is no simple challenge which we face. It is a challenge full of tears and hope, in which, as my Lutheran sisters and brothers might say, we are utterly thrown upon the grace of God.

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