The following is a joint press release from the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC).
Mass migration prompted by global conflict and ecological crises has stirred up unresolved fears in European societies. Understanding and responding to this was the central theme of a dialogue seminar that took place on 24 October between churches and the European Commission.
Participants in the seminar identified two widely experienced types of fear. The first is the fear of rejection, violence, and exclusion many migrants and refugees face both on their way to Europe and following their arrival. The other is the fear known by many in Europe who feel their values and way of life is under threat by the arrival of these migrants and refugees. Although non-EU migrants represent only 4% of the total EU population (of which 9% are refugees), a so-called moral panic emerges, which is sometimes amplified by media and social media activity.
Openly expressed fears are sometimes based on a particular historical context. Participants sought constructive ways to address and dispel these fears, including through the establishment of listening and discussion space.
The unique experience of children in migration formed an important part of the day’s discussion. Up to 100,000 unaccompanied children reached the EU in 2015. Children often suffer disproportionally and experience disruption in their education. This hinders their social inclusion and that of their whole family. Participants urged all to see children not only as the future of our societies, but an integral part of our present reality.
Those gathered advanced a diversity of solutions, but all were rooted in the promotion of education, dialogue, and media education. Through these processes, both migrants and Europeans can come to know their shared vulnerabilities and move from fear toward compassion and solidarity.
Representatives from the European Commission presented a number of programmes designed to transform fear into solidarity within the framework of the EU competences. They expressed their wish to work more closely with churches on promoting integration of migrants. The exchanges of this dialogue seminar will feed into the annual EU religious leaders’ summit, scheduled for 29 November.
The dialogue was organised by the Directorate General Justice and Consumers of the European Commission jointly with COMECE, CEC, and the Churches' Commission for Migrants in Europe.