NI Christians have duty to help desperate refugees: churchman

Migrants and refugees paddling a rubber dinghy close to the beach at Psalidi near Kos Town, Kos, Greece, in August
Migrants and refugees paddling a rubber dinghy close to the beach at Psalidi near Kos Town, Kos, Greece, in August

A churchman said he expects both clergy and lay Christians will make homes available to refugees as Europe continued to grapple with the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

Rev David Bruce said it was “disingenuous” to suggest that Northern Ireland is unable to cope with an influx of those seeking refuge from overseas.

But Ukip MLA David McNarry spoke of “emotionally hysteric” reactions to the photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach and warned that some of those attempting to enter the UK may not be genuine.

Rev Bruce, said: “If they’re seeking a place of refuge, we believe providing that place of refuge reflects the character and heart of God Himself, so God’s people should do all they can to welcome people in these circumstances... If the numbers of refugees rise significantly, such that there’s a need for families in Northern Ireland to take them in, they will find Presbyterians ready and willing to do their part.”

Rev Bruce, from the Presbyterian church’s International Meeting Point in south Belfast, which offers support to migrants and refugees, said anyone wishing to offer assistance – including lodging – should visit the centre at 133 Lisburn Road.

Prominent Alliance and DUP politicians last night offered to house refugees.

Rev Bruce, director of the Presbyterian Council for Mission in Ireland, said that, given the fact the UK is among the top 10 richest countries among roughly 200 nations in the world, “to say that we do not have the resources to cope with the needs of these refugees is disingenuous”.

Yesterday, Rev Dr Richard Clarke, Anglican Primate of All Ireland, said that “one way forward in the humanitarian sphere would be to look to the goodwill of local communities to take in and embrace manageable numbers of refugee families in their towns and cities”.

On Friday, the leadership of the three main Protestant churches in the Province all

Presbyterian Moderator Dr Ian McNie said: “As Christians called to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbour, we need to open our arms to those who come to our shores.”

The Methodist Church said in a statement: “It has been suggested that each town could welcome three families (more in larger centres)... We wish to express to our governments the willingness of members of the Methodist Church in Ireland to give a welcome and support to people who are in such a desperate plight.”

The Orange Order was last night asked whether Orange halls could be made available for shelter. A spokesman said that while they are not designed as accommodation, some had been used as such during World War Two, and that ultimately it would be up to each lodge to decide.

There have also been suggestions that military barracks across the Province could be used to accommodate refugees. DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he had heard from some members of the public that the former barracks in Omagh could be among the locations used.

The old military site at Ballykelly (now under the control of Stormont) had also been raised as a suggestion.

In addition, there are an estimated 500-or-so beds at Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, which had been vacated by 2nd Battalion The Rifles last year.

Both Mr Donaldson and a spokesman for the Army in the Province said that decisions on accepting refugees ultimately have to be made by the Government in London.

Mr Donaldson said: “I think that our first priority is to work with the UK government to establish how many people, how many refugees, we are able to take. Then I’m confident all other matters can be resolved, including accommodation, without disadvantaging our local population.”

Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan urged the Government to follow through on plans to aid refugees.

“Parliament is back in session next week. It is vital that the UK Government commits itself to a plan that will help those in need and punish those who seek to exploit them,” said the South Antrim MP.

Mr Kinahan added: “It is common humanity to help people who are in need. There is clearly as much of an appetite amongst the British public to help as there has been in the past when there has been a genuine need for refuge.”

UUP MEP Jim Nicholson welcomed Mr Cameron’s announcement. He said: “There is a great need to respond positively to this human tragedy with both a measured and compassionate approach.”

On Wednesday, Martin McGuinness was the first political leader in Northern Ireland to put a figure on the number of refugees the Province could take. He said that Northern Ireland could take “a couple of thousand refugees” at first.