The United Methodist Church is taking steps to help address the humanitarian crisis taking place in the Mediterranean as more than 300,000 people seek to escape the dangers of their countries caused by civil war, terrorist activities and climate changes.
The massive influx of migrants from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Kosovo and Eritrea, is considered to be the largest movement of people that Europe has experienced since the end of World War II in 1945. So far, more than 3,000 people have died since the beginning of the year while seeking safety in European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, among others. The large number of refugees has overwhelmed some “bridge” nations such as Macedonia, Greece, Italy and Hungary. The European Union and even some nations thousands of miles away such as the United States are debating how many people to allow into their borders to help ease the burden.
Urs Schweizer, assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe, has sent word to the Great Plains Conference and others that the need right now is not for more material items, including food and water. Because of transport concerns, the best way to help right now is through prayer. The donation of funds will be helpful in the near future, but Schweizer stated in an email to the Rev. Kalaba Chali, Great Plains Mercy & Justice coordinator, that money, at least for now, should be donated to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which is helping refugees in Italy and Greece. Other means of providing financial assistance will not be asked for publicly until authorities in the crisis area have a better understanding of where the money would go and how it would be used. Watch the Great Plains Conference’s website and Facebook page for more information as it becomes available.
Schweizer shared several pieces of information he has learned from contacts on the ground:
In Macedonia refugees have been provided with bottled water and clothes. Leaders are considering how these activities can be expanded.
In Serbia, United Methodist congregations are not yet involved in activities for refugees, most likely because of distance between the crisis area in the south and the northern locations of the churches. Also, trends show that refugees try not to stay any longer in Serbia than necessary. This scenario is likely to change with the onset of winter, meaning United Methodist congregations will be asked to step in to provide assistance. Help then is likely to be provided by an ecumenical organization based in Novi Sad, Serbia, of which the United Methodist Church is a member.
In Hungary, individual United Methodists of the congregations in Budapest are involved in activities of the organization Christians for Migrants, which provides emergency aid in the refugee camps and transit zones, particularly at the railway stations. Also, the United Methodist Church is a member church of the Hungarian Interchurch Aid, which provides emergency aid.