13 November 2016

Canon Malcolm Bradshaw speaks
out on the twin crises in Greece

Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of Athens with Canon Patrick Comerford of Christ Church Cathedral at the USPG conference in Swanwick

Patrick Comerford

Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of Saint Paul’s Anglican Church in Athens portrayed a very bleak picture of the two humanitarian crises facing Greece when I met him this summer.

Canon Bradshaw, who had met the Friends of Christ Church Cathedral a few days earlier, was the principal speaker at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG in the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.

He spoke of two crises in Greece: one facing the indigenous population of Greece, and the other facing the refugees who have arrived in Greece. He explained how the crisis facing people in Greece is as severe as the refugee crisis, and he spoke of the surprising difficulties facing the Anglican chaplaincy at Saint Paul’s.

He described how the Greek Orthodox Church is providing 10,000 meals each day in Athens. A group called the Church on the Street provides 800 meals to refugees and to Greeks in the heart of Athens. Throughout Greece, the Greek Orthodox Church is providing another 250,000 meals a day, and others are doing similar work.

It was heart-breaking to listen as he described the plight and needs of schoolchildren, and he spoke of the need to provide meals for children who arrive at school starving.

Many people have run out of money and have no resources, he explained. The figures show 27% of people over 25s in Greece are out of work and in long-term unemployment. The figures are worse for those who are younger: 57% of under-25s are out of work.

Pensions have been cut in half, and many people do not know where their income is coming from, from one month to the next. Taxes have been raised right across the board, and VAT at 27% is perhaps the highest in the EU. People are not making ends meet, and debt is high, he said.

“We don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel until a government is willing to tackle structural reforms,” he said. And he asked: “Where does the future lie?”

He also described how the refugee crisis began to unfold in November 2014. The Syrians who first arrived then were well-educated and did not want to stay in Greece, but hoped to move on to Germany.

By September, 5,000 to 7,000 people were arriving on the Greek islands every day, and there were no structures to cope with the influx. When winter came, people were dying in the camps of cold. Describing the camps graphically, he said: “This is the closest thing to a concentration camp in Europe … It almost has the feel of Nazi Germany emerging on the ground in Europe again.”

The chaplaincy in Athens started providing clothes and 400-500 hot meals one day a week, with help of USPG. It was a drop in the ocean, but it was some relief. But finance became a problem with capital controls and fears that the Greek banks would collapse or that the Government would take a haircut from all account.

The Anglican Diocese in Europe stepped in and turned to USPG for help. Donations need to be monitored, and since November there has been a partnership with USPG, which also provides two facilitators to work alongside chaplaincy. This, he said, is “truly a God-send.”

The money raised through the diocese and USPG has helped a number of programmes include the Lighthouse on Lesbos, where people are going out to meet people on dinghies in the Aegean, and Medical Intervention on Samos, which is providing medical and psycho-social support.

The chaplaincy also works closely with Apostoli, the humanitarian wing of the Greek Orthodox Church, providing non-food relief items and a hostel for non-accompanied minors, with the Salvation Army, which is working on the streets with refugees from Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, and the Ecumenical Refugee Programme, which is dealing with family reunification in the face of complex international law that works against suffering people who are heavily traumatised.

The crisis has its roots in the Iraq war declared by the US and Britain. And he asked: “Where is the United States in responding to this crisis? Where is Britain in responding to this crisis?”

Earlier this year, Father Malcolm, as he is known throughout Greece, was made an MBE in the British New Year’s Honours List. Bishop David Hamid of the Diocese in Europe says this “is a most fitting award recognising Father Malcolm’s outstanding achievements and extraordinary service, particularly during this time of financial hardship facing the Greek people and the huge numbers of refugees arriving in Greece and transiting through the country.”

Canon Malcolm Bradshaw from Athens speaking at the USPG conference in Swanwick this summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

This full-page report is published in the current edition of the ‘Friends’ News,’ Christ Church Cathedral Dublin, Autumn 2016 (Vol 34, No 2), p 14.

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