A decision to open the doors

The President of Caritas Germany: "It is necessary to overcome fear, but our people are motivated by solidarity". The role of the Church" "

European figures show that asylum-requests for humanitarian reasons increase year after year. Refugees fleeing from political crises and armed conflicts – in the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe… – wish to obtain (at least) a refugee status. Germany is going through a particular situation of welcome and availability. Data released by the Federal Office for immigration and refugees shows there have as many as 77.109 asylum-requests in the first six months of 2014 alone, 60% more compared to the same period in 2013. Of these, 12,888 requests are from Syrian refugees. 11,818 asylum requests were granted in the same period. The secret of Germany’s positive trend might stem from the decision to raise public awareness and promote “personal contact” as key measures for solidarity and reception. Catholic bodies dealing with relief operations, volunteering, along with German missionary orders, have earmarked 534 million euro to promote and implement social and pastoral projects in Europe and worldwide. Monsignor Peter Neher, President of Caritas Germany, conveyed to Massimo Lavena for SIR Europe his reflections on the German situation and the needs deserving concrete answers. Germany is a land of migration and massive welcome of refugees, but what are the – legitimate – fears of the population? What can be done to educate to the value of diversity and welcome? “The population shows to be welcoming and positive vis a vis the arrival of refugees. A recent survey shows that over 50% of Germans believe that their Country should welcome higher numbers of refugees. At the same time, there is also a fear of strangers. For this reason it’s crucial to inform people constantly on the causes of their flight and promote contacts between the refugees and the inhabitants of the Countries and cities of arrival. If we manage to create a personal relationship with people seeking asylum it will become easier to understand what they need and the emergency situation that has led women, men and children to come to us”. The German Church is firmly committed in responding to requests for help by asylum-seekers in Germany. What actions are under way? “In Germany the population at large has offered to help. Many people give clothing and toys or work as volunteers to help out during the arrivals and for the integration of refugees across the Country. Some diocesan Caritas centres, such as Cologne, Munich, Rottenburg-Stuttgart and Dresden have prepared informative materials made available to parishes. It’s important to provide information on the theme of asylum. But it’s equally important to step up awareness on the refugees’ needs”. In the recent plenary meeting of the German Bishops’ Conference cardinal Marx underlined that also among Christians there is widespread indifference, refusal and diffidence. What are the steps that need to be made to ensure full, concrete solidarity? “It’s extremely important to inform people on the causes of the flight and make them understand that many refugees arriving here have had traumatic experiences. Caritas Germany is committed to ensure that refugees are welcomed in small housing units and not in lodging centres or barracks in the suburbs. In this way it’s easier to prevent the creation of ghettos while ensuring that citizens engage in relations with the asylum-seekers. Encounter is always the best way to wipe out indifference and strengthen solidarity. Many bishops have written solidarity appeals to parishes and have opened their homes to refugees. In the framework of Caritas Sunday, held past September, our body organized the Café International in over 200 areas in the Country, inviting people from different culture and Countries to meet. This initiative was very successful, it’s a further step towards good coexistence”. The document presented in August on humanitarian and assistance activity by Catholic institutions has shown a considerable increase in economic commitment, in terms of humanitarian interventions abroad (notably, the Middle East) and for solidarity actions in Germany. Which problems are linked to this aspect? “Also crises and current armed conflicts are followed with attention by Caritas Germany. For example, we work in Syria and Iraq in cooperation with local partners in order to mitigate human suffering. That’s why we need consistent financial support and we’re pleased that people are willing to make donations. From this perspective I think the major problem is that despite the generosity of thousands of donors, neither suffering, nor the needs of Poor Countries have yet been uprooted. The situation of crisis areas is tragic beyond words”.

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