Church leaders want doors opened to save refugees
Church leaders in Northern Ireland have called on politicians here and across Europe to work together to help refugees fleeing conflict zones.
An image of a drowned Syrian boy has shocked the world and thrown the tragic plight of refugees into sharp focus.
The photograph of the lifeless body of three-year-old Syrian-Kurd Aylan Jurdi, found lying face-down on a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum, has drawn attention to the deepening humanitarian crisis.
Aylan's five-year-old brother Galip and their mother Rehan also perished in the Mediterranean after fleeing the war-torn border town of Kobani. They were trying to reach Canada via the Greek island of Kos - a main point of entry into Europe.
The boy's heartbroken father Abdullah survived the boat's capsizing and said he wanted to bring his family home to Syria.
Presbyterian Moderator Dr Ian McNie urged "our own and other European leaders to work together with a real sense of urgency and solidarity to find ways in which more can practically be done to help those who are currently so helpless.
"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," he said.
The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Clarke, called for leaders to work strategically to resolve political problems at their source.
"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, as others have done," he said.
Methodist Church secretary Dr John Stephens is struggling to see how society can "find a way forward out of the situation".
"There is a sense in which the European Union needs to develop some sort of co-ordinated approach and share responsibility that steps are taken to create a place of welcome and refuge for those who have left their troubled situation," he said.
Stormont politicians have called for swift action.
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said the UK has "a proud history of providing a safe haven for such refugees and we have a responsibility to do so again".
"We must separate any discussions on immigration between refugees and economic migrants but it is welcome that the debate now is not on whether we should do more to help, but exactly what scale of help should be provided," he added.
Sinn Fein mayor of Belfast Arder Carson is planning a vigil outside City Hall on Monday and has called for an emergency meeting of the council on to discuss the unfolding crisis.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he had spoken to the Prime Minister and urged him to accept more refugees from Syria and the Middle East.
"I have no doubt the people of the north - and indeed Scotland and Wales - would gladly welcome any moves to allow more refugees to come here," he said.
"My department has already been exploring the feasibility of how we can do that."
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said Northern Ireland should have empathy for those fleeing persecution.
"The United Kingdom must work with the European Union and the United Nations to deliver a fair, workable solution.
"In the great scheme of things, Northern Ireland has limited resources and can play a very small part in any solution, but the humane thing to do is play that part."
SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell said the Government "must react quickly and resile from anti-refugee sentiment that has fuelled the current crisis".
East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson has tabled a motion calling for the UK to accept "a sizable number of refugees".
Green Party leader Steven Agnew called on Prime Minister to ensure the UK "steps up and offers refuge to those seeking sanctuary".
A vigil was held in Londonderry last night to demand that the UK opens its borders to refugees.
The Guildhall Square demonstration was organised by the People Before Profit organisation.
Organiser Eamonn McCann said: "Across Europe people should be raising their voices against this horrendous scandal on Europe's borders."
Activists in Belfast are staging a 'Refugee Lives Matter - No To Fortress Europe' demonstration outside the EU Commission on the Dublin Road tomorrow at 1pm.