A different perspective – the numbers behind the refugee crisis

The refugee crisis dominates headlines at the moment, and so do the opinions, as these are wont to do. There are positive opinions, that we must offer aid, shelter refugees and find solutions for the immediate need and despair we see, and these have a bigger share than I would have expected. But there are also negative ones, rooted in fear that we are welcoming terrorists, that strange cultures, religions and ideologies will come to dominate and irrevocably change our own culture and religions (or lack thereof).

refugees-asylum-asylum-law-refugee-day-crisis-regions-humanitarian-disaster_a_0

In countries around us, especially in Germany and Austria, the Church has been on the frontline in welcoming refugees and speaking out for their basic human needs. The bishops of these countries have been vocal on this topic, and one bishop, Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg im Breisgau, recently outlined the basics behind the refugee crisis and the numbers that we must keep in mind before making sweeping statements on either side of the argument:

erzbischof_stephan_burger_q“The great number of refugees which come to us in Germany, and the numerous crisis hotspots of this world are showing us very clearly now: We are standing before a critical point on world history. The different parts of the world are increasingly intertwined with one another and ecological fragile. For the future this includes both great dangers and significant opportunities. We must acknowledge that, despite and perhaps because of the great diversity of cultures and ways of life, we are a global community. And so we also carry responsibility for this community.

Today there are nearly 60 million people are fleeing. Behind this flight lies distress, despair, lack of perspective, tragedies.

However, the frequently heard idea, that the majority of refugees are en route to Europe, does not agree with reality. We must be careful not to look at the world from a European perspective. The 28 countries of the European Union at present house less than four per cent of the total number of refugees and displaced persons in the world. regarding this it is often forgotten that about three quarters of these people, as internally displaced persons, do not even make it across their own borders – let alone to Europe. We should not lose sight of their special need. For the Kurds of northern Iraq, for example, this means that out of every four inhabitant, one is displaced. In every village, in every city in this region there now live refugees. The civil war in Syria has by now caused more than four million people to flee. Additionally there are 7.6 million interior displaced persons in the country itself.

The moving images of refugee boats in the Mediterranean urge us to ask how we can rescue people in peril on the sea and guarantee them a life in security and dignity. The question about the complex reasons why thousands of people leave their homes, is not being asked enough.

Many of the desperate refugees are fleeing from the horror of a bloody war or the terror of despots. Others are called “economic refugees”: they want to escape a life of poverty and misery, which is partly caused by the political decisions of Industrial countries and emerging markets. For example, the traditional land rights of indigenous farmers are being overridden by the rights of investors. Unfair trade agreements disrupt the livelihood of local manufacturers. International corporations are plundering the resources of Africa – without any notable benefits for the local population.

We are convinced that there is a need for more legal and secure routes to Europe. We are aware that, also in Germany, the capacity to take care of refugees is not limitless. Therefore, there is a need for a European and global effort to comprehensively address the causes of poverty and flight. The topic must remain at the top of the agenda of world politics.  The reason for the increase in refugee movements in the European Union does not come from Africa, by the way, but is in the first place an expression of political and economical problems in the Balkans and also in continuing violence in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. Africans formed, in the first six months of this year, just 19 per cent of asylum seekers in the European Union – and it was similar a year earlier.

That there has now been a dramatic global increase to the aforementioned 60 million refugees, can in the first place be explained by the significant rise in forced internal migration as a result of war and violence. The truly grave humanitarian problems regarding refugees are to be found primarily in fragile states. Seen globally, cross-border flight occurred for 86 per cent in equally poor areas adjacent to crisis areas – such as in Lebanon, Kurdistan, Jordan and Kenya, in Chad and in northern Cameroon.

Both latter states especially show the results of violence, which has been ongoing for many months now, of the terrorist network “Boko Haram”. Most reports from this region that we hear in Germany are mostly about terror attacks and abductions. That the situation has also caused a wave of refugees is little known. Some 190,000 people have fled to Cameroon, Chad and Niger following terrorist actions. Additionally, there are some 100,000 internally displaced refugees in Cameroon, who had to flee from “Boko Haram” attacks.

Partner organisations of MISEREOR report that family members of refugees were killed by terrorists before their eyes. They speak about how combatants of “Boko Haram” came to their villages, plundered and then burnt their houses. Many families were separated; especially women and children desperately need protection.

In Germany, it is also a challenge to humanely house and care for refugees – especially with an eye on the coming winter. Certainly, more effort is needed. But we must not forget the people in those countries in the world who are not nearly as wealthy and have to offer protection and nourishment to far more refugees.”

Advertisements

A second Red Dawn rises

While fog hides the view from my window, a red dawn rises over Rome as Pope Benedict XVI gets ready to create six new members of the College of Cardinals. Who are these princes of the Churches again, in the smallest crop since the 1977 consistory which, among others, saw one Joseph Ratzinger made a cardinal?

Archbishop James Michael Harvey was, until yesterday, the Prefect of the Papal Household. As was announced earlier, he was moved yesterday to become Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls. In many eyes, this is a classic promotion out of the limelight for Cardinal-designate Harvey’s role in the Vatileaks case. Under his watch, papal documents were stolen and published, with the archbishop defending the convicted papal butler Paolo Gabriele before his actions became clear. While he was never even implicated, it is said that Archbishop Harvey submitted his resignation to the pope after Gabriele’s arrest. While prefects of the Household are usually eventually made cardinals, this happens when they were past retirement age. Cardinal-designate Harvey is 63.

As archpriest of a papal basilica, he has certain custodial and liturgical functions (which are worthy in their own right), but very few, if any, well-defined duties in the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Harvey will be a Cardinal-Deacon.

Patriarch Béchara Pierre Raï is the head of the Maronite Catholic Church of the Middle East, especially Lebanon. His three predecessor were also cardinals, so his creation is not a surprise.  And perhaps the pope’s recent visit to Lebanon also played a role in cementing his nomination. Patriarch Raï is 72 and will be made a Cardinal-Bishop by virtue of his position at the head of a Catholic Church in union with Rome. He will not be given a title church, as he is outside the hierarchy of the Latin Church, but not outside the world Church.

Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal also heads a separate Church in union with Rome, the Syro-Malankar Church of India. He will be the youngest cardinal of all, and will be the first archbishop of Trivandrum to be made a cardinal. During the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation his bearded presence was already much noticed. Cardinal Thottunkal will be a Cardinal-Priest.

Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan is the much-respected archbishop of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Most recently, he unequivocally spoke against the terrorist actions of Boko Haram in the north of Nigeria, while at the same time seeking relations with Muslims in Nigeria. He is also strongly against a proposed division of the country into a Christian south and a Muslim north. Nigeria’s old capital, Lagos, is also headed by a cardinal, but the value of the western country in the Church is surely reflected by this appointment if a second one, who will be a Cardinal-Priest.

Archbishop Jesús Rubén Salazar Gómez is the archbishop of Bogotá, capital of Colombia, a nation which, considering its Catholic population, was long overdue for the appointment of a second cardinal. Clearly pro-life, Cardinal-designate Salazar Gómez will also be a Cardinal-Priest.

Archbishop Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle, is the rising star of the Church in Asia. Heading the major Archdiocese of Manila in the Philippines, Cardinal-designate Tagle will be the second-youngest cardinal of the bunch. He has his critics, but in general he is enormously popular, not least because of his use of social media. Affectionately referred to as “Archbishop Chito”, Cardinal-designate Tagle is a very welcome addition to the Asian part of the College. He, too, will be a Cardinal-Priest.

With the elevation of this international group, the first since 1924 to include no Europeans, the group of cardinals who are eligible to vote in a conclave reaches 120.

As for today’s ceremony, which will be conducted according to the exact same norms as this year’s previous one, it can be viewed via the Vatican Player, while the booklet for the celebration may be found here. Things are set to get rolling at 11am local time, which is 10am GMT.