Europe is facing an 'unprecedented humanitarian and political crisis' as it struggles with the huge influx of refugees and migrants, says European Commission's vice-president Frans Timmermans.
Thousands are trying to reach Europe, either by boat, crossing the Mediterranean, or across land, through the Balkans. They are coming primarily from the Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, and North Africa.
Refugees have tended to be from ethnic or religious groups directly under persecution and fleeing in fear of their lives. Nearly 4 million people have fled Syria due to the 4 year civil war; most are trapped in neighbouring countries, hoping to relocate to Europe or North America.
Many in the current crisis are migrants who do not fit this definition of refugee, but nevertheless are fleeing oppressive governments, sexual exploitation, violence and extreme poverty.
European countries have dramatically different responses to the crisis. Germany says it will take up to 800,000 refugees, the UK has not made a firm commitment to numbers but has thus far accepted only a few hundred, and Hungary has built a 175km (110 mile) fence along its border with Serbia to keep migrants out.
Meanwhile, Italy and Greece are overwhelmed with refugees coming by sea, while thousands have died en route.
Although in a post-Christian culture, many Europeans feel threatened by this influx of primarily Muslim refugees, and economically challenged by their physical needs.
Is this perception of ‘a flood of refugees’ reality? The latest estimate of refugees entering Europe so far this year (340,000) is actually only 0.068% of the EU's population. Compare this with the US numbers of undocumented immigrants at 3.5% of their total population. It is hard to argue that Europe lacks the means to absorb these newcomers - even with the current EU financial ‘crisis,’ Europe is wealthy in comparison to the nations the migrants are fleeing. The US is also facing waves of illegal immigrants from Central and Latin America, producing similar angst. Nevertheless, many Americans have welcomed migrants, attributing their vitality as a nation in large part to the energy and ideas that waves of immigrants have brought to its shores. Many Americans recognise their lives are enriched by this diversity.
Whatever one’s personal views are on migration, I am challenged to take a step back from the politics and emotion surrounding this issue, and consider: What is a biblical response to this crisis?
Care for the stranger and foreigner was woven into Old Testament law. In the New Testament, Paul reminds us that we have been recipients of mercy and must in turn extend mercy. Jesus teaches us in the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46, that as we care for the hungry, oppressed, imprisoned, we are caring for him.
Such times and circumstances may well be God’s opportunity for those who have had no chance to hear the gospel in their own homeland to hear it where they find refuge. Can we allow the crisis that is unfolding before our eyes to cause us to examine our own hearts as God’s people? We surely can pray fervently, petition politicians, give to charities and, whenever possible, offer a warm welcome, sincere friendship and gracious hospitality to those refugees who make it to our shores and doors. What an opportunity, as we look for a chance to both speak and demonstrate God’s love, compassion and salvation!
Carol Moerman lives in Canada with her husband, Murray. They serve with Outreach Canada by leading the Global Church Planting Network (GCPN) with the aim of establishing national networks of church planters in every country. Their previous assignment was as Area Director for Europe, based in Worthing, West Sussex, U.K.