UNHCR and Greek Orthodox Church discuss cooperation on refugee issues
GENEVA, May 30 (UNHCR) - The head of Greece's Orthodox Church, Archbishop Christodoulos and High Commissioner António Guterres met on Tuesday to discuss increasing practical cooperation on refugee issues and ways of combating a rising trend of intolerance.
"I want to express my gratitude to the voice of the Archbishop concerning the values of people that suffer and the need for people seeking asylum to get the support they need," said Guterres after the meeting at the refugee agency's Geneva headquarters.
Archbishop Christodoulos has first-hand experience of the trauma refugees face when forced to leave their country. His parents were refugees from Turkey during the compulsory exchange of populations after the events following the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
"He is a voice that is respected, in a time when populism is rising and there's a mixing of concerns such as security, terrorism and asylum. He is the voice of tolerance and clarity, explaining what it is to suffer," said Guterres.
Guterres and the Archbishop also spoke about practical cooperation within Greece, particularly the protection of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants as well as humanitarian assistance and integration within society.
"It was a unique occasion for the Church to be here for this visit to UNHCR," said the Archbishop. "I would like to express my deep appreciation for the reception and the occasion to discuss the problems of refugees and migrants in Greece and the role of the Orthodox Church in Greece in confronting these problems."
Some of the problems included practical help and humanitarian assistance, acceptance of the values of Greek culture, and the so-called spirit of tolerance in society, the Archbishop added.
A proposal to increase cooperation with UNHCR on refugee and asylum issues in the broader context of migration using the extended church network was also raised. The areas of border monitoring and advocacy for better access to people of concern to the refugee agency were discussed.
Because of Greece's geographical location - at the external border of the EU and at the crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe - considerable numbers of foreigners, mostly migrants, arrive in Greece every year.
UNHCR recently launched a campaign in Greece aimed at highlighting the multiple problems that refugees and asylum seekers face in the country including difficulties trying to enter the country and apply for asylum; the low number of people who are granted asylum; detention conditions; and measures required for the protection of specific vulnerable groups seeking asylum.
The Church of Greece contributes to funding the activities of one of UNHCR's operational partners, the Ecumenical Refugee Programme, ERP, which provides legal counselling and assistance to asylum seekers in Greece.
By Jennifer Pagonis in Geneva