Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Directly to the conference message: “The Economic and Refugee Crises: Political, Religious and Spiritual Dimensions”
Two years after the visit by H.A.H. the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, His H. Pope Francis and the Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and of All Greece, to the island of Lesbos, to alert the world community of the situation of the refugees, Sallux and the Centre for Ecumenical, Missiological and Environmental Studies (CEMES) organised an important conference. This conference, Under the aegis of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew took a deeper look in the combination of the Economic and Refugee crisis for Greek and European people as well as the situation for refugees and migrants. Special consideration was given to the situation of minority groups in European Refugee centres. These minorities, amongst the mainly Muslim population, in refugee centres throughout Europe often experience harassments, assaults, rapes, threats and sometimes unjust treatment by NGO and government staff.
Conference day one
The current situation
During the conference there where several sessions where prominent speakers where able to give more inside in the different perspectives and sub topics of the overall theme. Both the economic crisis and refugee crisis where discussed. The first session discussed the current situation to create a common picture for all conference participants. Rev. Fr. Dr Emmanuel Clapsis (US) from the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology pointed out that the Christian churches in their public witness and in addressing the economic and refugee crisis must uphold and defend the rights and the dignity of the poor and of the refugees who have also being created in God's image (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; 1 Cor 11;7; Jas 3:9). The affirmation of their dignity is not only a Christian ethical imperative, but it also has universal validity.
Dr Kostas Mygdalis (EL), Advisor to the Interparliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy (I.A.O.) gave a perspective of the work of the Orthodox Parliamentarians on the economic and refugee crisis… Dr Paul Mills (UK), gave the perspective of the Relational Thinking concept and applied it to both the refugee and economic situation in Europe. The second session was about the signs of solidarity with the refugees throughout Europe by Christian organizations and churches alike. Rev. Archimandrite Ignatios Sotiriadis (EL) secretary of the Synodical Committee for Inter-Orthodox, Inter-Christian and Inter-Christian Relations, Church of Greece presented the view of the Greek orthodox church..
Prof. Emer. Ulrich Duchrow (DE) representing Kairos Europa gave a speech where he expressed his concern on the political, economical and geopolitical motivations for (military) interventions by Western powers, which ultimately results in these mass migration and refugee streams. Dr Lucas Andrianos (EL) gave insight in the work and views of the World Council of Churches.
“Witnesses of solidarity with those in need”
The third session discussed the theme: “Witnesses of solidarity with those in need”. This session gave insight in the work of Mr Vincent Briard (FR), Senior Protection Officer, United Nations Refugee Agency (Thessaloniki Bureau). He gave an informative presentation which explained the basics and also some misunderstanding of the work and responsibilities of the UNRA (in Greece/Europe). There where some Greek Christian based organizations who are working in the field of refugee and immigrant care in Thessaloniki.
Organizations who gave a short presentation:
- APOSTOLI - NGO of the Holy Archdiocese of Athens,
- CARITAS HELLAS - Ms. Maria Koutatzi (EL), Caritas Hellas
- Greek Evangelical Alliance - Secretary General Mr. Fotis Romeos (EL)
For Sallux the situation for diverse minorities inside European refugee centers is an important topic which is, as we believe, underestimated by many governments and NGO’s in Europe. The situation for Yezidi’s, Christians (both ethnic and especially converted) but also other groups like LGBT live under extreme difficult situation. Besides fleeing countries where they were threatened and prosecuted they now face the same kind of discrimination by fellow “refugees” while living in free, democratic countries in Europe.
The position of minorities inside European refugee centers
Howard Stern (UK) representing the International Christian Consulate (ICC) gave an impressive presentation with many details and statistics from their experience in Greece. By means of a video (to protect the victims only audio) Howard gave voice to the victims. Auke van der Helm (NL), Judicial Consultant for Stichting Gave (go organizer of the conference) presented the conference with a view on the Dutch “refugee situation” as well as the issues which mainly “Christian refugees” face in the Netherlands. Probably because of the living conditions in the Netherlands there are less life-threatening issues but at the same time “Christian refugees” and other minorities also face the same issues. The presentation pointed out that these issues are also seen in Germany and Sweden for example. We thus argue it’s a European “problem” which needs an adequate response from us all.
Second conference day
“Christian values” based politics in Europe
The first session of the second day was about “Christian values” based politics in Europe. The first speaker was the Slovak Member European Parliament (MEP) and president of the European Christian Political Movement (www.ecpm.info) Branislav Škripek (SK). Mr. Branislav presented insight in the future vision of the ECPM on the future of the European Union. Mr. Christiaan Meinen (NL) gave a speech about the work Sallux is doing for minorities in the Middle East (Iraq and Syria). The speech was called the “Culture of Freedom”. It showed that the narratives of many European mainstream media is strangely enough not in line with the “democratic principles of human rights, women’s rights, democratic control and so on. Instead, in the case of Turkey they follow the narrative of Turkey against the presumed terrorist “Kurdish” factions. The culture of freedom, happening on the ground as we speak is not in the mainstream media, nor is it acknowledged by Western international institutions. The relevance of this “culture of freedom” for Europe is that it creates a secure environment (in the middle east, or even secure Mediterranean See boundaries to Europe) so there is no need for people to seek refuge in Europe! The possibility for Europe, to help the people in those countries will be much more affordable and, in the end, better for all people concerned.
Finally, the Christian economist Dr. Paul Mills (UK) presented a new concept which is called “Confederal Europe”. Strong nations, Strong Union”. This is partially an alternative to the vision scenario’s presented by the 5 presidents, or even the extra “EU Vision” presented by European Commission president Juncker. Sallux and Relational Research developed this vision for Europe from a relation approach to the problems Europe and European member states are facing. The concept sees a European Union with a Co-federal character aimed at creating a strong European Union, but with powerful member states. Relational thinking and subsidiarity are the key principles of this new concept.
“The Churches and Their Vision for Europe Beyond the Crisis"
The second session the conference moved to the topic of: “The Churches and Their Vision for Europe Beyond the Crisis". The first speaker was the Eminent Metropolitan of Nea Ionia, Philadelphia, Heraklion and Chalcedon, Mr. Gabriel (EL), who suggested the topic: "The Orthodox View of the Economic and Refugee Crisis. The vision for the future of Europe”. Following was the Secretary of Economic and Ecological Justice Study of the Council of European Churches (CEC-KEK), Rev. Dr. Peter Pavlovic (SK), who presented the Council's vision for European integration with sustainable development. Mr. Pavlovic also read out the message/greetings from CEC-KEK president Rev. Hill. The third speaker was the General Secretary of the Community of Sant'Egidio, Dr. Cesare Zucconi (IT), who analyzed the theological thinking and action of the community with respect to the conference themes. The final speaker was the pastor Daniel Farzad (UK/EL). Daniel Farzad, originally an Iranian converted to Christianity, lives and works in Greece amongst refugees but also supports a growing number of converted Syrian (Kurdish) Christians who are living in Turkey, Iraq and the Federation of Northern Syria. He wasn’t able to attend the conference in person because he was arrested in Turkey while visiting his refugee Christian communities there. After being severely beaten he was able to go to Iraq where I finally was able to leave again for Athens. From there he was able to talk to the audience through Skype. His speech was about the problems of the Christians in the Middle East, the future of this Christian Church, the problems of religious freedom in the region, and how Europe and the Churches could help. But the main theme of his speech was about Europe and the conscience of European Christians itself. If we as Christians won’t grab the opportunity to tell the refugees about Christ you withhold them the most precious gift we could give them.
At noon, the delegates visited the Day Center, an offer structure for refugees and immigrants of the Panhellenic Evangelical Union, working voluntarily in the Thessaloniki Railway Station area on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the working hours.
Closing Session: Political panel on democracy, economic and refugee crisis and populism
The closing session was held in the afternoon for the audience of the city in the "M. Anagnostakis" hall of the Municipality of Thessaloniki. This session started with the reading of the conference message to the European, national and ecclesiastical authorities, as well as to the general public, and the political panel on democracy, economic and refugee crisis and populism.
The closing panel was presented by the coordinator of the CEMES conference organizer Mr. Nikos Kosmidis (EL) and a well-known journalist of the Economist on Religious Affairs Mr. Bruce Clark (UK). The panel was attended by representatives of the parties represented in the European Parliament, of which Mrs. Nadia Valavani (EL) responded in a series of speeches by LAE / EUL - NGL , Stavros Kalafatis (EL) from ND / EPP , Mr. Ioannis Voulgarakis (EL) from SYRIZA / EUL - NGL , and Mr. Georgios Arvanitidis (EL) from DISY / SD.
After these representatives for Greek political parties there where some interventions by MEP Branislav Škripek (SK) and Dr. Kostas Mygdalis (EL), adviser to the Interparliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy. The main points of their interventions were summed up by veteran journalist Bruce Clark (EL). Bruce Clark also wrote a blog about the conference on the Economist website.
The conference was broadcasted live on the internet.