Since yesterday together with Church President Volker Jung and Birgit Hamrich I‘m participating in the annual Synode of the Waldensian and Methodist Chruches in Torre Pellice, Italy. Before the synod started Church President Jung and Moderatore Bernardini published a statement on the present situation of refugees in Europe.
The wording of the statement:
Current refugee policies counteracts the commitment of churches in Italy and Germany
Prior to the synod meeting of the Italian Methodist and Waldensian churches, their church president Eugenio Bernardini met with Dr. Volker Jung, church president of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau (EKHN) in Torre Pellice, Italy, to discuss current social challenges.
Both church presidents appeared shocked by the current refugee policy in Germany and Italy, as well as the Europe-wide trends of eroding the asylum law and desolidarization. The dramatic increase in numbers of drowned boat people, and the unwillingness, even hindrance, of European countries to rescue persons in distress at sea, and to develop a common refugee policy lead to a humanitarian disaster. “Europe loses its soul when values such as respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights are increasingly called into question,“ the church presidents agreed.
Both churches engage with considerable professional, voluntary and financial commitment in favour of the humanitarian reception of refugees and their integration into societies. With the programme „Being Church Together” congregations of Italian Methodists and Waldensians have opened up to people especially from Africa. With the project „Mediterranean Hope“ the Italian churches point out alternatives for the admission and integration of refugees in Italy. In the EKHN, several thousand volunteers are involved with refugees, providing free language instruction, accompanying them in dealing with authorities or looking for a job or training place. Both churches are committed to a decent reception of the often severely traumatized people.
In the opinion of Bernardini and Jung, these efforts are counteracted, hindered and fundamentally questioned by the current inhuman and partially illegal refugee policy. German and Italian churches support humanitarian organizations undertaking search and rescue operations. These are currently often hindered in their work, as ports in Italy and Malta remain blocked to them, administrative rules prevent their departure, or the Maritime Rescue Center for the central region of the Mediterranean in Italy, advises captains to hand over rescued persons to the Libyan Coast Guard.
Therefore, both church presidents call for a return to a refugee policy based on the need for protection and the human rights of refugees.
They call on European governments and institutions to organize effective civilian European search and rescue operations, to refrain from criminalizing humanitarian organizations that are currently rescuing people instead of those actually in charge, and to provide safe pathways and generous humanitarian admission programmes for refugees, like the humanitarian corridors programme which is ecumenically implemented in Italy, France and Belgium. „With these and other alternatives, such as immigration opportunities for work and education, smugglers could actually be stopped and the loss of lives in the Mediterranean significantly be reduced,“ the church presidents are convinced. In addition, the church presidents proposed distributing refugees currently rescued from distress to European countries.
A close partnership exists between the Waldensian Church and the EKHN for many years. It is characterised by theological exchange, mutual visiting programmes and mutual support of diaconal projects and in the commitment to refugees. Some parishes in the EKHN are still closely connected with the history of suffering of the Waldensians, as they were founded due to the displacement of Waldensians from the Italian Piedmont in 1698. Church president Jung will attend the Synod of the Italian Methodist and Waldensian churches in Torre Pellice in the coming days at the invitation of the Waldensian Church.