It started last year! There were hundreds and then there were thousands of people arriving on the shores of Italy and Greece. They had horrible stories of devastation, of indiscriminate killings in their homelands, of rapes, and of the complete desolation of their homes, villages, and towns. Moreover they were happy that they arrived on some European or Mediterranean shore because according to them, others never made it. They perished in transit. Europe opened its doors and its social services and many of them settled in the countries that were doing better economically – it was impossible to stay in Greece when the country was going through economic difficulties and so the destination became either Germany or Sweden.
In sotto voce, or a whisper, we heard about individuals and groups from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan that were making money in the transportation of these groups over the Mediterranean Sea or transporting them across Europe. In the European Union, transportation like this is easy because there is almost an absence of borders. Travel and employment were accessible to everyone.
Then this summer, the numbers changed. The hundreds became thousands and the thousands became tens of thousands. The frontiers suddenly were flooded. Over ten thousand people a day would cross a border and continue their journey on foot, by train, or by bus. The multitudes traveling on foot would seek the shortest distance to Germany. The pathway was through Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany.
European countries which are not a part of the European Union started to watch their borders. The Eastern European countries that became a part of the European Union within the last ten years are themselves struggling with poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. They have not welcomed the new immigrants. Then Hungary, the main transitioning country, created a barbed wire fence. When this was broken, the military were called to respond and protect the border.
As a response to what was called Hungarian barbarity, other countries attacked Hungary in their major newspapers. The immigrants were welcomed to Croatia, which for two days welcomed everyone who could come and register there on the way to Germany. Up north, Germany herself became exhausted and closed its own borders.
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The whole issue is extremely complicated and there are many opinions about what the refugees hope to find and how the rest of the world should receive them. There are those who have asked why the Muslim countries are not receiving these immigrants – after all, they are their own brothers. Then there was a decision for each European country to take a number of refugees based on their population, but that decision was not received well. Others are saying that the laws that were created for immigrants at the end of World War II were primarily for political refugees, but the majority of the people that have come within the last year came primarily because Europe is providing social and economic services that they will not be able to get in their countries.
Then there are those who are concerned that the arrival of millions of Muslim immigrants will speed the Islamization of Europe and some European countries only accept Syrian Christians. Countries such as Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro are afraid to allow immigrants in since Kosovo became a new country and they are afraid of an alliance between Albania and Kosovo which could swallow up territories that are being populated by Moslems. Others in Germany are saying that the new arrivals do not integrate. Instead they dictate things to the people already living there, as in the case of the imams asking German schools to reconsider the dress code of the German girls so that they would not tempt the Muslim boys.
There are politicians and economists who are telling us that the social systems and the compassion exhibited by Europe will not solve the problem. They tell us that the problem is not in Europe being able to handle the situation, but with the systems and the governments in their own countries that are not concerned with the welfare of their people. They tell us that as long as poverty and these indiscriminate wars continue, one part of the world will have thousands and tens of thousands of immigrants.
This morning, I received an email about a church leader in Southern Europe. The religious leaders are coming together to figure out what they can do to help this situation. Many remember that Bible passage in which the apostles asked the Lord Jesus Christ to send the multitudes away, but he had compassion on them and asked them to sit down and created that miracle of multiplying the bread for 5,000 people. What is the compassionate action needed in our day?
The humanity and dignity of Europe is being tested in how they react to this multitude who has greatly suffered and who in another way want to benefit from the accomplishments of the Western world. The compassion of the Christian world is being tested as to our willingness to give not only from our abundance, but to give even above it, because these are God’s children.