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Region could play part in giving migrants refuge

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By Fiona Reid
Annan and Eskdale
Region could play part in giving migrants refuge

TRAGEDY and pain emerging during the migrant crisis, which has caused turmoil in mainland Europe, has been years, if not centuries, in the making.

SEEKING SAFETY . . . mainly Syrian refugees arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos having crossed the Aegean from Turkey                                   PICTURE: UNHCR / Ivor Prickett

 

That’s the view of Ecclefechan – based clergyman Father John Higgins, who was three years priest – in – charge serving the Anglican community in the Turkish capital Ankara.

St Nicolas Church, located in the British Embassy compound, has a multi-national congregation, which has actively supported efforts to ease suffering of refugees fleeing across the borders from war-torn Syria and Iraq.

Father Higgins – pictured right – this week spoke of an inevitable need for regions like Dumfries and Galloway to consider providing a refuge for migrants.

rev john higgins nnHe said: “I believe we, like the rest of western Europe and countries such as America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, ought to be at the forefront of efforts to find solutions.

“One of these days the refugees will go back home. How long that will be I have no idea. It could be a few years or much longer?

“For the moment they desperately need respite and some help. And we’ve done it before. The UK took in Vietnamese boat people and refugees from east Africa, so it is not as though it is new, original or different.”

Father Higgins, who was also chaplain to the British Ambassador to Turkey, pointed out that many refugees were well educated, multi-lingual and had a range of professional skills.

He said: “They are in extreme difficulty. We need to respond as a nation and offer as much help as we can.”

A former minister serving in the Annandale Group of Episcopal Churches, he and his wife Kay regularly return to Turkey.

They have a home in a coastal area where refugees are risking death daily by attempting to reach the EU in flimsy rubber dinghies.

The couple have expressed thanks to Dumfriesshire people who in recent years sent donations to allow them to buy essentials for refugees who have found food and shelter in Turkish emergency centres.

Father Higgins backed latest UK Government moves to accept refugees from British-funded camps in Turkey.

higgins refugees 2 grReferring to Germany’s huge commitment to accommodate refugees, he said: “Germany does not have a military presence in the Middle East, so their focus has been to welcome refugees arriving in their country.

“In contrast, Britain and the USA have a military presence in the Middle East and some of their funding and effort have helped secure refugee camps. The UK is spending more or less an equivalent sum to Germany.”

Father Higgins, whose colleague Rev John Stevenson from Moffat, is currently temporary priest-in-charge in Ankara, felt ‘immense compassion’ for the refugees.

He described the Middle East situation as ‘complicated beyond words’ with the roots of the conflict, including differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims, stretching back many centuries.

But he also explained: “Contrary to popular opinion, with the exception of the most fanatical and intolerant, they are not fighting over religion.

“Many innocent people are being caught up due to circumstances totally beyond their control.”

He pointed out that Christians, who had a presence in the Middle East going back many centuries, were among a number of minority groups at most risk

refugee donationsFather Higgins said: “Some of the oldest continuously used churches in the world are in Syria and Iraq and many have now been destroyed by ISIS.

“For many refugees, if they did not flee, they would most certainly be killed.

“Europe means safety, sanity and salvation for Christian and Muslim alike. In some ways it is a compliment to our culture and civilisation”

The UK has so far pledged to accept 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years and the Scottish Government has offered to take at least 1000 as ‘an immediate priority.’

Representatives of Dumfries and Galloway Council attended a ‘task force’ meeting in Edinburgh on Friday to discuss plans.

Meanwhile, volunteers across south west Scotland – such as group at Dumfries, pictured above right – have been collecting and sorting essential items, such as clothing and toiletries, to help ease the plight of migrants camping in such locations as Calais.

 

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ANNANDALE Churches Together this week opened a HUB at Annan Old Parish Church for the collection of donations for refugee relief.

It was in conjunction with Dumfries-based Massive Outpouring of Love group (can be found on Facebook).

There are other HUBs in Lockerbie and Langholm as well.

The Annan HUB will be open between 10 am and 12 noon every Wednesday.

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DUMFRIESSHIRE MSP Elaine Murray has opened up her constituency office as a drop-off point for those wishing to make donations for refugees at Calais.

The office at 5 Friars Vennel, Dumfries is open from 10 am until 4 pm Monday to Friday.

 

NEWSDESK: 01461-202417 (ext. 214)

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