Moderator urges shared humanity in refugee debate

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has spoken of his concern at a lack of shared humanity in the current refugee debate.

The Rt Rev John Chalmers is welcoming the action taken to restore search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean. But he is warning we are losing sight of our Christian values in determining the fate of the people who are caught up in the unfolding tragedy on Europe’s borders.

Mr Chalmers said: “Earlier this week I called on the Government to play its full part in addressing the circumstances which contributed to the appalling tragedy in the Mediterranean. It is good to hear that there has been agreement to re-start the search and rescue missions. This is an important step, albeit one that does not go far enough. Hospitality, and particularly hospitality to the stranger, is an important part of the Christian faith and it is my hope that as a nation we will learn to be more welcoming to asylum seekers and refugees fleeing horrendous circumstances.

“I have heard first hand from colleagues working and living in Malta about the tragic grief palpable within that community as unnamed bodies are buried. This should be a reminder to us all of our shared humanity. In these last weeks leading up to the General Election, I would encourage all of us to talk more carefully and sensitively about the important issues of migration and asylum. We are all God’s children.’”

The Church of Scotland’s St Andrew’s Scots Kirk in Valetta in Malta runs a project supporting migrants who reach the island. The Church of Scotland Guild has been supporting the ‘Out of Africa...Into Malta’ project since September 2012. Over the past two and half years the Guild has raised £107,000 to help fund its work.

Earlier this week, project worker Peter Lloyd sent this harrowing eyewitness account of the mass funeral of refugees who had drowned while attempting the crossing.

“I attended the funeral of the 24 young men whose unidentified bodies were recovered from the recent drowning of some 800 or so migrants in the Mediterranean. It was held in a large tent outside the morgue at Mater Dei Hospital in the presence of the great and the good of Maltese Society.

First impressions were the huge numbers of bouquets of flowers on the paths approaching the tent and reading the many cards of sympathy. Then the arrival of the coffins. I have never been to a funeral for more than one person before and seeing the soldiers bringing the coffins in with groups of four reminded me of the sheer numbers who have lost their lives both in this and other incidents in the Mediterranean. As the coffins came in the Muslim women began their traditional wailing which close up is very emotional. Then in the midst of the brown coffins there was one white one, for a boy rather than an adult. We had music from a harp and a bugle lament and then readings and prayers from the Imam and the Bishop of Gozo who spoke well taking as his text the Good Samaritan. Coming out there was the scent of all the flowers. As we left the there was a queue of some six hearses waiting to take the coffins for the private burial at the cemetery. Last night there was a silent march in Sliema of some 1,000 carrying candles and remembering the dead. I could not make it as we were doing our regular English language teaching to migrants in the International Centre but I kept looking at the young men arriving for the language class who we now know and thinking that they were no different from those who had drowned and it could have been them.”