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Cameron should listen to Syrian bishops, not the Anglican ones

Cameron should listen to Syrian bishops, not the Anglican ones

By Melanie McDonagh
October 18, 2015

Well, it's something, I suppose, that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York didn't sign that ill-advised letter last month from 84 CofE bishops to the PM calling for the Government to take in 50,000 more Syrian migrants; Justin Welby and John Sentamu do have some redeeming sense of caution. Meanwhile the 84 are still waiting for a proper answer from the Home Office, apparently, which seems to be why they're sharing their pique with The Observer today.

Quite the most devastating critique of that letter came, in fact, from a man who was rather grateful for them for their "love and their charity". It was the Archbishop of Aleppo (the Melkite Greek Catholic one), Jean Clement Jeanbart, who is in London for the launch of the annual report from the charity Aid to the Church in Need -- which I may say, makes sobering reading.

He was, naturally grateful for the CofE bishops taking an interest. "Love-wise, Christian feelings-wise, it is a good move", he said of the letter on today's Sunday Programme on Radio 4. From the perspective of what actually works, however, he intimated it was pretty well the opposite of what Christians in Syria want. "We suffer that our people would leave the country", he said. So, not so keen on encouraging the exodus.

And what do Christians and other moderates actually want the British government to do? His answer was both predictable and obvious: "to stop the funding of the radicals and fundamentalists" and more importantly, "to find a political solution where compromise may be won". And what form might that take? The Archbishop wants President Assad left in place for now. He says:

"Of course, for the future he has to go, to leave the place for others who could be elected. For the time being, if Assad goes, the fear is that everything may collapse. "

This is, plainly, pretty well the opposite of the PM's approach, which is to regard Assad as the real enemy, as great an impediment to peace as Isil.

Interestingly, the Archbishop also said that Christians in Syria were rather grateful for the Russian intervention in the conflict, because they're "happy that there is some hope the war will end".

In other words, if the PM were to take his lead from the Syrian archbishop, rather than the befuddled CofE ones, his approach would be to sign up to the Russian offer of a grand plan to end the war which would involve supporting Assad now in order to deal with the problem of Islamic State. The quid pro quo, which the Russians do not mention, would be his eventual removal.

For the British government, that would mean doing two unpalatable things: accepting that the Assad regime is the least worst option in the short term and abandoning the pretence that there is a viable moderate Syrian opposition to back militarily -- there isn't; it has been tried. In return, what we should ask from the Russians is that pull the rug under their ally after Isil has been seen off in Syria and some kind of stability has returned.

That approach seems like common sense to me. The alternative, to congratulate ourselves on dealing with the symptoms of the problem, the refugee exodus, rather than the cause, the war, seems like bad morality, for, as the bishops will know, grandstanding isn't morality.

As matters stand, one result of encouraging the exodus from Syria is to ensure that Christians in Syria -- whose church predates the CofE by about 1100 years -- will be reduced to "an insignificant minority". Once, when we heard about Damascus, most Brits would have thought of St Paul, on the road to. Not any more.


Church of England bishops demand Britain takes 30,000 more Syrian refugees and blast government for its 'inadequate' response
C of E releases letter, signed by 84 bishops, sent to Cameron in September
Urges 'substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily'
Bishops call for at least 50,000 Syrian refugees to be take in over five years

October 18, 2015

Church of England bishops have accused the Government of an 'increasingly inadequate' response to the migrant crisis and called for at least 50,000 Syrian refugees to be taken in over the next five years.

The C of E has released a letter, signed by 84 bishops, which was sent to Prime Minister David Cameron in September, urging him to make a 'meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily'.

Amid mounting public pressure to strengthen Britain's response to the migrant crisis on Europe's borders, the Government pledged to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.

The C of E has released a letter sent to Prime Minister David Cameron (pictured) in September calling for at least 50,000

Amid mounting public pressure to strengthen Britain's response to the migrant crisis on Europe's borders, the Government pledged to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years

The bishops write in the letter: 'We believe such is this country's great tradition of sanctuary and generosity of spirit that we could feasibly resettle at least 10,000 people a year for the next two years, rising to a minimum of 50,000 in total over the five-year period you foresaw in your announcement.

'Such a number would bring us into line with comparable commitments made by other countries. It would be a meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily.'

The bishops also pledge to encourage their churches to provide housing and foster care to refugees as well as to support the Government in its efforts.

They also called for the creation of a National Welcome and Resettlement Board, to try to mirror the successful work carried out to help cope with past refugee crises in the 1950s and 1970s.

This has been introduced since the letter was written.

It counts the Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, as its co-chairman but he says it is 'disheartening that we have not received any substantive reply' from Mr Cameron.

Speaking on behalf of the bishops, he said: 'The Archbishop of York recently said that the current situation has rightly been described as a refugee crisis, but it is also a time of opportunity for us as a country and for our wider continent.

'The opportunity before us is to rise above narrow self-interest, however defined, and to embrace the highest parts of our humanity.

'We recognise that both the Prime Minister and his Government responded to calls from the country for there to be a programme of resettlement and we are grateful to him for responding to those calls.

'However there is a real urgency to this issue with those increasingly being forced from their land as their homes are literally bombed into the ground.

'As the fighting intensifies, as the sheer scale of human misery becomes greater, the Government's response seems increasingly inadequate to meet the scale and severity of the problem.

'It is disheartening that we have not received any substantive reply despite an assurance from the Prime Minister that one would be received. There is an urgent and compelling moral duty to act which we as bishops are offering to facilitate alongside others from across civil society.'

A Downing Street spokesman said: 'We have announced that the UK will resettle an additional 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this parliament.

'It is absolutely right that Britain should fulfil its moral responsibility to help the refugees, just as we have done so proudly throughout our history.

'But in doing so, we must use our head and our heart by pursuing a comprehensive approach that tackles the causes of the problem as well as the consequences.

'The UK is the second largest donor in the world after America, helping refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Our total contribution to the Syrian crisis is more than £1.12 billion.'


Church of England bishop who preaches about allowing Syrian refugees into Britain... but won't take any into his six-bedroom house
Bishop of Manchester said it would be wrong for him to take in refugees
Right Rev David Walker says its due to language barrier and 'alien culture'
Added that his bishop's mansion was 'smallish' by bishops' standards

October 18, 2015

One of the 84 Church of England bishops who publicly pressed David Cameron to allow more Syrian refugees into Britain last night said he would not take any into his own six-bedroom mansion.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev David Walker, urged ordinary people to welcome asylum seekers from the war-torn country and said it would be 'a sad reflection' on society if they did not.

He claimed, however, that it would be wrong for a refugee family to move into his own recently refurbished house because of the language barrier and their 'alien culture'.

Britain intends to give new homes to 20,000 refugees who are in camps close to Syria and who have not tried to reach Europe.


David Cameron rebukes Church of England bishops over refugee letter
PM criticises bishops for failing to acknowledge extent of British aid to refugees in Middle East after they urged UK to accept more people fleeing Syria

By Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent
October 19, 2015

David Cameron has vented his frustration with the Church of England over Syria by calling on bishops to make "an in-depth intervention" to acknowledge the £1bn in aid the UK has provided to refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.

The prime minister, who announced that Britain is to admit 1,000 refugees by Christmas, said that the Anglican bishops were wrong to criticise him for ignoring their plea to admit 50,000 refugees.

Cameron criticised the Church of England after bishops released a private letter to the prime minister in which they called on him to agree to a dramatic increase in the number of Syrian refugees over the next five years -- from 20,000 to 50,000.

The prime minister came close to accusing the bishops of encouraging Syrian refugees to make the "dangerous journey" to Europe. He said that anyone advocating UK involvement in an EU quota system for refugees was encouraging the refugees to risk perilous journeys across the Mediterranean to the EU -- usually to Greece.

In their letter to the prime minister the bishops did not call on Britain to take part in the EU quota system, which would have obliged the UK to take 18,000 refugees on a rapid timetable. But the bishops did say that the UK should bring itself into line with other countries by admitting 50,000 refugees over five years rather than the 20,000 proposed by Cameron.

The prime minister told MPs that Britain was starting to accelerate the admission of Syrian refugees to Britain from camps in neighbouring countries. But he rebuked the 84 bishops for failing to acknowledge the £1bn in aid provided by Britain to Syrian refugees since 2012, which is designed to encourage them to remain in neighbouring countries rather than making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. The 20,000 refugees that will be allowed into Britain over the next five years will be taken from the camps in Syria's neighbouring countries.

Cameron said: "We want to see 1,000 refugees brought to Britain by Christmas. We will report on that after Christmas to tell you how we have done."

The prime minister, who once likened his Anglicanism to the patchy reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns, then turned on the bishops. He said: "On the bishops no one has more respect for the bishops than me. But on this occasion, I think they are wrong and I will say so very frankly.

"I think the right thing to do is to take 20,000 refugees from the camps. If you become part of the mechanism distributing people around the EU you are encouraging people to make that dangerous journey.

"I would now like to see the bishops make a very clear statement, as [Jeremy Corbyn] just did, which is Britain has fulfilled our moral obligations by making a promise to the poorest countries and the poorest people in the world of spending 0.7% of our gross national income on aid. How many other of the other big countries that made that promise have kept that promise. So let us hear an in-depth intervention from the bishops on that issue."

The prime minister criticised the bishops after Corbyn called on Britain to act in a coordinated way with fellow EU nations as he raised concerns that member states were seeking to outsource the refugee crisis to Turkey.

The Labour leader told Cameron: "We are concerned that some within Europe would like to outsource the refugee crisis to Turkey to solve it. There is a responsibility for all European nations to act in a coordinated way, firstly to help the refugees and secondly to try and resolve the conflict that is driving so many Syrians to flee.

"I have said it before and I will repeat it in the house today; I praise this government for the level of aid they have provided for the camps in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region ... However, we must do more to aid those who have come to Europe."

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