Finding direction in the refugee debate

On the afternoon of Saturday 11 June 2016, ECPM organized a conference on “Crossing the Border: giving direction to the refugee debate in a divided Europe”. The interesting speeches and panel discussions featured national Members of Parliament, research professionals and a Member of the European Parliament.

ECPM President and Finnish MP Peter Östman opened the conference: “As Europeans, but also as Christians, it is hard to find the right direction. The direction that will help us to deal with this situation. A direction that will unite us. At this moment, we see a lack of unity and a growing division between countries and people in the European Union. This lack of unity is not only visible in the way we treat our refugees in Europe but also how to deal with the problems in countries like Syria and Iraq.”

After the opening speech of Östman, keynote speaker and Dutch MP Joël Voordewind (ChristenUnie) shared his view on the tension between compassion, culture and politics in the refugee debate. While taking into account the situation from the national, European and global level, Voordewind urged us to remember that there are still internal refugees within Syria and Iraq that are stuck in their countries.

Romanian MP and ECPM member Ben-Oni Ardelean responded to Voordewind by stating “it is a problem that we do not have a common discussion about the refugee topic in the European Union. The member states are very divided and our vision needs to be reshaped.” Especially as Christian politicians, we have a responsibility to treat refugees with respect and without looking at them from above.

After questions from the public, the program was followed by a two presentations of the Christian Political Foundation for Europe. Noemi Mena Montes, researcher at the foundation, explained to us the complexity of the situation of refugees all over Europe and in the region itself: Lebanon and Jordan. Johannes de Jong, director of the foundation, shared possible solutions for the problem, stressing the importance of changing the mentality first. Without a culture of freedom in the Middle East there can be no democracy, De Jong stated.

After those presentations, a panel hosted by ECPM board member George Rukhadze had the possibility to react to both presentations. Ladislav Ilcic, Croatian MP, mentioned that Croatia was in a same situation 25 years ago when many refugees from amongst others Bosnia Herzegovina entered the country. He mentioned that we should make a difference between economic migrants and refugees who fled from war, as we should certainly show compassion to the latter.

Slovakian ECPM MEP Branislav Skripek stressed that we have to help and we need to help. Very concretely, we should use money for buildings and venues for refugees so that they can live in conditions with dignity. This is now a problem in many of the camps. Furthermore, we should send out professionals to help the refugees with learning the language, explaining how we live here, help finish their education and other basic needs.

The Dutch director of the SGP Research Institute, Jan Schippers, reacted with a different approach. Not being a politician but a political researcher, he mentioned that the 4 freedoms of the EU are great but we should rather have 4 responsibilities. Justice, loyalty, stewardship and honesty are all needed for direction in the European Union. We should promote the rule of law in the regions of Syria and Iraq, we should take care of the earth with stewardship (as climate change is causing problems in Africa, which will cause more migration later), and we should be putting subsidiarity first. The EU should serve the member states and not the other way around.

A discussion with the audience followed, where the state of terrorism in the region was discussed as well as the question who should fight IS since many men fled to Europe. Montes and De Jong of CPFE stressed that women and children have fled their countries as well, but are mostly staying in the neighboring countries as the trip to Europe would be considered too dangerous for them. Another member of the public stressed the responsibility of the Western world in this whole situation. Rukhadze followed by stating that when there’s an empty space in power, terrorist organizations flourish. This is why the foreign policy of the European Union should be outward-looking instead of inward.

Schippers stressed that it needs effort from both sides to help refugees: from us as European citizens and from the refugees themselves. Rukhadze added that we should make sure that they have opportunities to push themselves. There should be enough opportunity for them to be able to learn, take a job and integrate fully in their new societies.

After the panel discussion, ECPYouth took the stage by introducing their new campaign “Names vs. Numbers”. ECPYouth has published the personal stories of ten Christian Syrian men as they dare us to see beyond the numbers and see people with names. One of the refugees on the pictures took the stage and shared his moving story with all who were present. Showing pictures of the state of Aleppo as it was some years ago and how it was now, Mgrdich Amroian reminded all who were present that there are personal stories behind every face of every refugee that is entering our countries.  

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