Arriving in Lampedusa

Airport Lampedusa

It is 9.00 in the morning and I have just arrived in Lampedusa. Fr Marcus Walker, the Associate Director, and I are making this journey to Lampedusa today to increase our awareness of the refugee crisis that is affecting all of Europe and much of the world today.

The island of Lampedusa is one of the most significant and most overwhelmed refugee arrival points, as highlighted by Pope Francis' visit to the island two years ago. On that occasion the Pope was gifted a pastoral staff in the shape of a cross made from the wood of a refugee boat which had crossed the Mediterranean. 

Because of the Anglican Centre's interest in modern slavery and human trafficking over the last three years, two friends of the Centre arranged for us to receive a specially made wooden Lampedusa Cross, to be placed in our chapel as a sign of the plight of refugees. Today Fr Marcus and I meet the artist, Franco Tuccio, who made the cross and will listen to his description of this gift. The local parish priest on the island, Don Mimmo, is hosting our visit because of the links we have with the Sant' Egidio community in Rome, who work with refugees on the island. We will be meeting with people who minister to the refugee camps as well as Luca Maria Negri (President of the Federazione Chiese Evangeliche Italiane) and Germano Garatto (coordinator of Foundation Migrantes for the Italian Bishop Conference).

We come to the island very aware of the hugely significant refugee ministry of Anglicans in this part of the world. Here are some examples of how churches around Europe have been responding:

  • In Greece the Anglican Church has been the catalyst and bridge builder which enabled six Christian agencies and Churches to come together to learn what each is doing and able to commit to in the face of the crisis. It was through this Anglican initiative to convoke an ecumenical response that the Orthodox Archdiocese of Athens, the Jesuit Refugee Service, Caritas, the Salvation Army, the Greek Evangelical Church, formed a coordination, with each individual church or agency taking lead responsibility for a particular programme or programmes which the other Churches could then tap into to avoid duplication
  • In Greece, due to the rapidly changing situation, our own Anglican response has had to evolve with the changes. At one time, we worked with what was called the "lighthouse" team on Lesbos, receiving refugees arriving at that time by boat from Turkey, providing a clothes-changing area, a kitchen, and tents to shelter the arrivals, and providing food, clothing and medicines. Then it needed to shift to deliver meals (400 per week) to two detention centres (for those deemed to be illegal) on the outskirts of Athens.
  • Elsewhere in Europe, during the large flow of refugees up through Central Europe earlier this year, Anglicans in Budapest and Vienna prepared aid packs to distribute among refugees at the train stations. Much of this has been made possible through our partnership with Us (formerly USPG) who have been our major Anglican mission agency partnering with us to respond through the establishment of a rapid response fund, raising monies from Churches in the UK and Ireland.  Since the closure of the Greek northern border with Macedonia a different response to the refugee/migrant crisis in Greece has had to be made. No longer are the needs of transient refugees/migrants the priority. Instead it is the 54.000 refugees/migrants now stranded in hurriedly erected 'closed camps'.
  • In cities such as Vienna, many Anglican families are hosting refugees in their own homes, so their experience is very close to home.
  • Elsewhere in the diocese response continues to the specific contextual needs, for instance in Ankara, our Anglican parish has an extensive programme of welcome and accompaniment for refugees, mostly from Iran and Iraq. In Morocco, we are working with Roman Catholic partners in assisting refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa.
Director, 23/05/2016