- Migration on the Seas
This week's Revised Common Lectionary readings celebrate the Holy Spirit - present in the act of creation, giver of new life and hope, intercessor, the one who empowers Christ's followers to share the good news of God in Christ. Praise be to God for the gift of the Spirit: pray that we may ever be ready to hear and to follow the Spirit's promptings.
Migration on the Seas
Migration across the Mediterranean continues to be a topic in the news. On 13 May, the EU announced the outline of its new immigration plan, and on 18 May, agreed to the establishment of an EU force to tackle human smuggling and trafficking in the Mediterranean. This force has as its stated aim "to break the business model of smugglers and traffickers of people" in the region, starting with surveillance and evaluation of smuggling and trafficking networks, and then undertaking "work to search, seize and disrupt" the smugglers' assets.
There is no question that the way in which many smugglers have charged high fees to expose migrants to dangerous crossings, often on overcrowded, sub-standard boats, raises serious issues. Some criminal gangs are also documented to have abused potential migrants in order to extort more money from them. But most migrants in the region aren't trafficked involuntarily but smuggled with their own consent, and the primary drivers for Mediterranean migration at present aren't the smugglers themselves but conflict, persecution and economic hopelessness. There are serious concerns that the EU's action may in fact primarily serve to trap thousands of people fleeing conflict or persecution in areas where they continue to face extreme danger. The EU action may also cause those smugglers who do manage to evade detection to charge migrants even more for the greater risks they are taking. Slavery and migration scholars, as well as human rights organisations, suggest that the EU must prioritise securing alternative safe routes out of North Africa and the Middle East.
Another element of the new immigration plan, a proposal to relocate a certain number of "asylum seekers in clear need of protection" from their countries of entry (primarily Italy and Greece) to other EU nations, has suffered set-backs as France, which supports the relocation of refugees in principle, refused to accept the idea of quotas. Spain, Hungary and Poland have also objected to quota allocations. The UK, Ireland and Denmark are already exempt from the proposal by law and have not offered any voluntary participation in the scheme. In rejecting the possibility of UK participation, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, argued that plans for resettlement or relocation would further incentivise criminal gangs to engage in people smuggling. Her comments are contested by those who argue that "push" rather than "pull" factors are driving Mediterranean migration. It has also been noted that the relocation scheme as proposed is designed to affect where, not whether, people with legitimate claims receive asylum in Europe. Overall, the debates within Europe around the responses to Mediterranean migration run the risk of exacerbating EU tensions.
Meanwhile, as noted last week, in the Andaman Sea, boatloads of Rohingya are suffering as they flee repression.
Neither Myanmar nor neighbouring Bangladesh will accept the Rohingya people as citizens, and consequently they are rendered stateless. Prohibited from working or voting; subject to violent attacks; and in many cases crowded into camps lacking access to water, sanitation, and medical care, they are amongst the most persecuted people in the world (see here and here for earlier prayer items giving background).
Desperate Rohingya have long taken to sea to escape Myanmar. Many of them have wound up in the hands of traffickers in Thailand, often suffering brutal treatment. The discovery of mass graves in Thailand, however, embarrassed the country into a crackdown on traffickers. These have responded by abandoning boatloads of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants on the open seas.
Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand - the countries which the Rohingya are trying to reach - had been refusing entry to the migrant boats. The migrants' plight, however, has come to international attention, galvanising concern. Some journalists particularly followed the refusal to grant one abandoned group entry to Thailand despite the fact that their vessel's engine wasn't working, and that the people on board had had no food or water for days. New York Times and BBC journalists reported on the appalling conditions in which the passengers had been forced to stay, exacerbated by the unrelenting heat.
In an emergency meeting this week, Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to offer temporary shelter to the estimated 7000 migrants (not all of whom may be Rohingya) stranded on boats; Thailand has also agreed to stop pushing the boats back out to sea. Malaysia has since initiated search and rescue operations.
These are only temporary solutions, however - and government officials have been clear both that they apply only to those Rohingya already at sea, and that the international community must assist with the resettlement and repatriation process. The issue will be discussed in more detail at a regional summit this Friday - countries are likely to press Myanmar to improve the situation of the Rohingya and others in Rakhine State, so that the exodus is not necessary. ASEAN, however, has a longstanding policy of non-interference in member states' internal issues, so that it is unclear how much pressure will be exerted.
In the meantime, some more distant countries have said that they would help: Turkey has donated money to the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR to assist with the situation; the Philippines have said they would be prepared to accept Rohingya refugees; and the US has offered financial and resettlement assistance and said it would be willing to lead a multinational effort. Somewhat paradoxically, given the number of people fleeing his own country, the Gambian president has also offered to resettle all the Rohingya refugees. Others have been less forthcoming: despite calls from within his own country to offer refuge, the Australian Prime Minister has stated that his country will not offer hope of resettlement, as this would give encouragement to people to use smugglers. Concerns over smuggling and dangerous transportation are valid, but as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said, "It is unacceptable that certain people should continue to say what the eye does not see, the heart does not grieve over."
- For safety for the people who continue to make dangerous sea journeys, aware of the risks, but driven by conflict, persecution and a desire for a better life.
- For those making decisions on migration issues. Pray that they will prioritise the needs of migrants as they seek appropriate responses.
- For a proactive response in tackling the poverty, conflict and persecution that force people to consider migration, enabling migrants to stay in their home countries or regions.
- Give thanks for those countries that have accepted and continue to accept migrants. Pray that they will treat these new residents well and that people who have left so much behind will be able to settle, find work and build a future for themselves and their families.
- That the church will continue to witness prophetically and lovingly to the dignity of all human beings.
Action Point: Refugee Week (15 to 21 June) offers an opportunity to talk about the rich benefits that refugees bring to the UK, changing the rhetoric around asylum-seekers and refugees. Might you or your church consider sponsoring or attending an event during the week ... or incorporate its themes in your service? The Refugee Week website has information and resources.
The Holy Spirit, strength of those facing danger because of their faith
Comforter, helper, counsellor,
Giver of sustenance and peace,
May our brothers and sisters know your help in their hour of need.
A number of different initiatives are asking Christians around the world to pray for their fellow believers who are suffering because of their faith. Please pray this Pentecost that the Holy Spirit will comfort, strengthen, encourage and guide those individual Christians and churches facing persecution because of their faith or religious identity.
As well as praying in general, you may wish to take part in initiatives relating to specific groups of Christians.
- Many organisations are focusing on the Christians of Iraq and Syria, who are suffering under the Islamic State and other militant groups. This video - without words, so that it can be understood by all people - shows Iraqi Christians who have fled to Erbil as they go about their daily life and times of worship. Exceptionally moving in its simplicity and immediacy, it gives an insight into their world. Might you use it to inspire your prayers?
- This Sunday is designated by the Roman Catholic church as a day to pray for the church in China; it's also the last day of Christian Solidarity Worldwide's week of prayer for Chinese Christians. Could you use the papal materials or CSW's resources to pray for this country, where Christianity is growing despite state hostility?
- We've recently asked you to pray about the Eritrean government's persecution of Christians and many other groups. On Thursday, 28 May, Christians will be both praying for freedom and safety for Eritreans and protesting the Eritrean government's human rights abuses. Could you sign up for a prayer slot ... or attend the protest?
Good News made known to all peoples
"All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability" Acts 2:4
At Pentecost the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in different languages, so that the Good News of Christ's saving work could be understood by all the devout Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem, whatever their origin.
Give thanks at this time for all who by speaking in tongues or by working on translations have brought the Gospel to people in different language groups. Pray for those who seek inspiration to translate Scripture into languages that do not yet have access to it.
You may wish to use the image below, with words and a picture taken by Elizabeth in the Solomon Islands, as part of your thanksgivings and prayers.