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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move - N° 93,  December 2003, pp. 151-152

The Anglican Communion

His Grace Ian GEORGE

Archbishop of Adelaide


The Anglican Communion, which includes some 77 million persons around the globe, is divided into 38 autonomous provinces, each of which includes a significant number of independent dioceses gathered into a kind of federated relationship. The Mispersed authority of this Communion has made it difficult to develop an effective international response to refugee and migrant issues. 

As a result, Anglican provinces have worked ecumenically as well as through local or national missionary agencies responding to Third World poverty and associated issues and generating overseas aid programs. In the United States, for example, the Episcopal Church is very active in the work of the national Council of Churches of the United States. In Great Britain the Church of England is much involved in the work of Christin Aid as associated with the British Council of Churches. In Australasia and Canada the same pattern is observed.

Each national or regional province tends to have its own overseas aid body as an official organ. A great deal of work is done in raising funds for overseas aid and development projects, for education programs and for the care of refugees, displaced persons and asylum seekers overseas and also upon resettlement in that particular province.

The provinces of the Anglican Communion have been active in advocacy for refugees and migrants. In the late 20th century the Anglican Communion Migrant and Refugee Network was created which at one stage had representatives from more than 25 separate provinces. This network has held infrequent global gatherings as a result of a lack of funds, but work has been done through the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the office of the Anglican Observer to the United Nations in appropriate advocacy.

The current situation

Since September 11th, 2001, refugees around the world have been losing ground, especially in the United States where the word "security " has expressed an insular concern for national safety against the depredations of terrorists. Terrorism is understood to come from "outside" and thus all refugees and asylum‑seekers are invariably stereotyped as potential terrorists. Hence the burden of proof has fallen to victims to establish that they are victims, thus increasing their experience of trauma. In a variety of ways, the fear about "outsiders" emanating from the events of September 11th has resulted in more restrictive policies toward refugees by virtually all nations, leaving the victims more victimized and desperate. This more nationalistic view of security neglects consideration of the profound insecurity inherent in the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.

The same xenophobia, racism, and fear have been experienced in Canada, Europe, Africa and Australia. Scarce government resources have been applied to "security" issues and immigration staff cut at home and abroad. Applications for refugee status and asylum have been much delayed as a result.

The development of detention policies has been widely used as a means of discouraging prospective asylum seekers from seeking asylum as well as a way of isolating "outsiders" from civil society until an overworked and highly suspicious bureaucracy can assess their claims. It is estimated that in the course of a year, 200,000 persons coming to the US will experience some form of detention.

The churches in many countries have sought to be advocates for refugees, but conservative governments have been less and less inclined to listen to the churches and rather respond to segments of the community where a sense of fear and insecurity has allowed the restrictive policies of governments to be accepted. In Australia, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has attacked the churches for speaking out on these and other issues.

The churches need to show a greater sense of moral urgency and speak out against these insular and sinful attitudes and embrace educational programs to inform the public, especially church members, about these serious violations of civil liberties and the human consequences of adopting more restrictive policies in the treatment of refugees and immigrants. We need to join forces with human rights organizations, encouraging our governments to sign an faithful to the international conventions relating to refugees and asylum seekers and to their own democratic principles.

We need to encourage UN member nations to give more generously to the UNHCR which has the international mandate for the care and protection of refugees worldwide. At present, this agency is woefully under funded. With a significant slowdown in the resettlement of refugees in countries which have traditionally welcomed refugees, UNHCR 's role is even more important in caring for millions of refugees around the world. As hospitality for those fleeing persecution becomes more scarce, the UNHCR's mandate is severely challenged and thus needs to be bolstered by greater generosity from donor nations.

The volatility of so many parts of the world and the fear and anxiety which these volatile situations breed invariably produces refugees. At the same time, a less generous attitude prevails in extending hospitality to these vulnerable persons. Churches must play an assertive leadership role in calling attention to this grave humanitarian crisis and give voice to those whose cries for safety and justice are otherwise not heard.