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RIGHTS GROUP REPRIMANDS GREECE OVER PROPOSED MIGRANT RESCUE CRACKDOWN

Syrian refugees – Hungary

By Donnelly McCleland

Europe’s top human rights body on Friday [3 September] called on Greece’s parliament to withdraw articles included in draft legislation that would impose heavy penalties on nongovernmental organisations that carry out unsanctioned rescue operations of migrants at sea. The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said in a statement that the proposed changes would “seriously hinder the life-saving work” carried out by NGOs. (Associated Press)

Greece’s proposed legislation

Over the past two years, Greece’s centre-right government has tightened border controls and promised to respond to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan with additional restrictions. The draft legislation, which is currently under debate in parliament, could see members of charities involved in rescue operations conducted without coast guard permission jailed for up to a year and fined 1,000 euros ($1,190), with the NGOs facing additional fines. The bill is also aimed at simplifying and speeding up deportation procedures. Greece has denied repeated allegations by human rights groups that it carries out summary deportations, or pushbacks, that deny migrants the right to seek international protection.

Lesbos and other Greek islands close to the coast of Turkey were the main entry point for refugees and migrants into the European Union during mass displacements in 2015 and 2016 largely caused by wars in Syria and Iraq. More than a million people used the route to cross into Greece and onto other European countries during the crisis. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed support for a decision by EU home affairs ministers, at a recent security summit in Slovenia, to seek cooperation with countries in the region “to prevent illegal migration from” Afghanistan.  He maintains: “I think what happened in 2015 was a mistake. We acknowledge it openly. We (must) address the need to support refugees closer to the source of the problem, which is Afghanistan.”

Greece is not alone in its efforts to tighten border controls.

More migrants/refugees – more ‘walls’

The world today is seeing ever more refugees and asylum-seekers than two decades ago. Conflict and climate-related crises are the main driving forces behind the increase and all indications are that the trend is set to continue. Today, one in 97 people is forcibly displaced, while in 2015, it was one in 175. According to information gathered by DW: “The trend of rising migration parallels another trend that attempts to halt or at least manage the first: between 2000 and 2021, the number of completed, started or announced border walls in the world more than quintupled, from 16 to more than 90 wall complexes.” A study headed by the Delàs Center for Peace Studies that analysed border walls built between 1968 and 2018, concludes that governments mostly cited illegal immigration as the main reason for building border walls, followed by illegal trade (i.e., the smuggling of goods, and trafficking of people or drugs) and terrorism concerns.

Scientific studies are, however, divided on whether walls can prevent irregular migration. “There’s no scientific consensus, which means that walls are not universally effective at deterring immigration,” Sergi Pardos-Prado, a political scientist at the University of Glasgow, wrote to DW in an email. He explained further: “Sometimes migration finds alternative routes — sea or alternative, indirect land connections. Walls are slow and expensive constructions, sometimes you prevent access in a specific area, but you incentivize access in a different area still under construction or less robust. It is rare to find a perfect, massive, solid, impenetrable block covering the whole length of the border.”

It has also been shown by a study by the universities of Washington and Chicago that analysed more than 50 barriers around the world, that unwanted side effects can also be witnessed in the economic sector: while border barriers can reduce illegal trade like drug trafficking and smuggling, they are likely to curb legal trade as well. Irrespective of the intended purpose of the wall, the legal trade of countries with a wall built between them plummeted by up to 31%.

Economist Victoria Vernon asks in an email to DW: “The economic question about the walls and fences is: do the benefits exceed the costs?” She unpacks this question using the US-Mexico border as an example: “Or in other words: Is a wall worth it if it prevents 40,000 people from working in the US — when the costs of achieving it includes $3 billion to build the wall, many more billions to maintain it, the hundreds of people who die crossing the border, criminal justice resources to patrol the border, and potential economic benefits of Mexican labour that US citizens are not receiving because migrant workers are not coming?”

Such issues beg the question of reasonable alternatives to walls and highly restrictive migration policies. A study by Vernon and Klaus Zimmerman suggests the following: “Economic literature overwhelmingly suggests that policies of more open borders, with less restrictive migration and trade, benefit domestic citizens more than walls.” Their study also points out: “Economic policies are also more effective than walls in dealing with illegal trade and trafficking, while diplomacy is more effective than walls in addressing security.”

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

AP reported this past week (1 September) that there has been a massive interfaith effort in America to assist the thousands of Afghan refugees who have been evacuated since 14 August.  Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is quoted in the article: “It’s incredible. It’s an interfaith effort that involved Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim, Jews, Episcopalians … Hindus … as well as nonfaith communities who just believe that maybe it’s not a matter of faith, but it’s just a matter of who we are as a nation.” This crisis has galvanised major religions and denominations across America to pull together in this time of great need to provide everything from food and clothes to legal assistance and housing.

There is a long history in America and elsewhere, of Christian (and other religions’) involvement in refugee policy: from resettling Jews fleeing the Holocaust of WWII, to those impacted by massive societal upheavals like the Vietnam and Balkan wars, and those fleeing severe droughts and famines. Acts of compassion speak volumes to those in direct need, but also to others in society who view the Church’s actions. How the various Church denominations and communities work together to address a crisis also demonstrates Christlike qualities, as does working with those of other faiths (or no faith), each is an opportunity to ‘sow seeds’ of gospel truth.

As this article has demonstrated, the worldly approach towards migrants and refugees is not necessarily welcoming. It is often hostile. The rate at which walls and barbed wire fences have gone up across the world in the past couple of decades testifies to this. Thus, the challenge for the Church across the globe is to seek and offer an alternative approach. Scripture clearly demonstrates the Lord’s heart of compassion and concern towards the migrant/refugee – the “stranger” or “foreigner” (Leviticus 19:33-34, Leviticus 19:9-10, Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Exodus 23:9, Matthew 25:25-36, and many more). Relevant magazine says it so beautifully: “The issue of immigration reform is nuanced, and policies are often legislatively complex. But the wisdom of the Bible is both simple and timeless.” We can trust that the Lord has a multitude of ideas on how to address the migrant/refugee crisis in the world. May we earnestly seek Him and be open to the direction He leads us in – it might be uncomfortable, it could stretch us, it will most certainly cost us ­– money, time, effort. But consider the incredible ‘reward’ of souls for His Kingdom – of far greater worth.

Please join us in prayer:

  • For those in positions of authority, compiling legislation and the implementation thereof, to be guided by the Lord to act with compassion
  • For the global Church to seek the Lord for new, creative approaches in dealing with the multiple challenges of the migrant/refugee crisis – from dealing with source issues to resettlement
  • For the Lord’s Kingdom to be advanced through the sacrificial giving of Christ-followers all over the world

 

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Image: REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

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