A Call for Courageous Leadership: Responding to the Refugee Crisis by Arleen Westerhof


A recent study about citizen’s concerns in the EU showed that while those in the Mediterranean countries were primarily worried about unemployment, those in the economically stronger nations were more worried about the effects of debt.1 The one thing however that unites us all is our concern about the refugee crisis and our inability to tackle it at a European level. Anti-immigrant violence is growing in countries that have shouldered the largest burden while fears are the highest in countries that have received the least amount of immigrants. If there ever was a time to champion a relational, values-based  approach to dealing with this situation it is now.

In this blog I would like to suggest a few things that we can do.

First, we should not allow fear to dominate our perspectives. The Bible encourages us more than 100 times not to be afraid: “Fear not”, “do not fear”. It also reminds us that at some time all of us were strangers and foreigners. Many of us still are. Human history has been marked by great waves of migration in the past and we cannot afford to let security fears replace the principle of respecting the dignity of others.

Second, we need to get a clear picture of the facts. The numbers of refugees entering Europe are, in themselves, not overwhelming. In 2015 the European Union (population 500 million) received one million unauthorized immigrants. This includes both those fleeing persecution and those fleeing poverty. This is only slightly fewer than the number of Syrian refugees accepted by Lebanon, which only has 5 million people.2 It should be mentioned however that there are large differences in the number of refugees that each country is taking in. At the end of 2015 Germany was taking in 3,000 per day. This needs to be addressed at the European level.

Third, we need to be more relational at all levels. EU governments are bound by law, and by conscience, to provide refuge to those fleeing war and persecution. A major priority at this time is restoring a sense of order to the refugee flows. Until this is done many more people will die trying to cross the seas to get into Europe. An important step would be to work towards building partnerships  with developing world nations that go far beyond migration. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are good places to start because together they house more than five million refugees. Greece, which was already suffering before the refugee crisis, also needs and deserves our support and cooperation.

Fourth, we need to issue a call to action. Courageous leadership is required. Church leaders would do well to follow the example of Pope Francis who called on Europe’s Catholics to take in refugees.3 The world is facing a refugee crisis on a scale that we have not seen since WWII. If every sanctuary or place of worship were to take in just one refugee, tens of thousands could be helped. In an interview with the Huffington Post the Pope said, “We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays to discard whatever proves troublesome.”4

The present wave of migration is placing huge strain on our societies and our economies. Humility, prayer and a determination to act will go a long way towards helping Europe find the right balance between its two-fold moral responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and ensure assistance and acceptance to refugees.


  1. The European Union Facing Massive Challenges – What are Citizen’s Expectations and  Concerns?, Politik für Europa #2017 plus, Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung
  2. The Economist, Feb. 6th-12th 2016, p. 17-20
  3. The Washington Post, Sept. 6th, 2015
  4. The Huffington Post, Sept. 24th, 2015