The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

'Nobody is illegal, we were all created by God' – Grand Chancellor of the Order of Malta

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 9 September 2015, 10:06 Last update: about 5 years ago

The Order of Malta has taken quite an active role in providing aid and supporting refugees and migrants fleeing from conflict zones, trying to make a better life for them and their families.

The Order's Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager told the Malta Independent about its presence and work in this regard.

“We are present in some countries of origin like Iraq, Lebanon and when possible through mobile clinics in Syria, as well as some African countries. We also have a presence on Italian coast guard ships providing medical services. In Germany we run reception centres and last year, more than 50% of the 200,000 asylum seekers in Germany went through our facilities where they spent their first ten days to two weeks. In France we offer legal advice to refugees and asylum seekers and in Hungary we provide first aid services”.

The Grand Chancellor doesn't have the golden bullet for solving the crisis, but he believes the first challenge for politicians is that there is no single solution. “We have to decide on several practical steps and must be aware that we will be faced with the influx of migrants for the foreseeable future. From the perspective of the order, the first problem is language perception. We should never talk about illegal people. Nobody is illegal, we were all created by God and live equally. The difference is in the status to stay within a country. We have to deal with these people with dignity. In the actual crisis, for the short-term, we must distinguish between war-zone refugees, real asylum seekers and migrants. We have to deal with the migrant problem too but for the moment we have to concentrate on those who flee because they risk their lives. All the European countries have signed the UN Conventions for asylum seekers and refugees and we are bound to this. Its not only a question of law, but a question of humanity. I think its a scandal, that we force refugees from Syria, who have just escaped from the country to make their way to Europe through life threatening means. A solution for this has to be found. I hope that Europe will soon agree on a system on how to deal with these people. Without a common policy, we will not be able to tackle this crisis”.

Financing the Order's aid endeavours comes from public funding. For example for their work with the Italian coastguard, they are funded by the Italian state, the reception centres in Germany are funded by the German government, and the Order conducts this work on behalf of the respective governments, he explained. “They entrust us as they know we have the experience and its cheaper than if the State had to do it itself. We are also collecting donations to help through additional services”.

The Order showed a strong presence in Malta for the 450th anniversary of the Great Siege. “With the crisis in the Middle East it has become more important for organisations based on Christian faith and the Muslim community join forces to counter terrorism and also to deal with the human tragedy. We have initiated a number of efforts where, for example, in Lebanon the Order runs ten clinics, five of which are run in close cooperation with members from different religions, such as Sunnis, Shiites and those of Jewish faith. We even have a clinic in the South where Shiite nurses wear our cross. In preparation for the World Humanitarian Summit next year, we organised a symposium in Geneva with the title 'Faith based Organisations, together for Humanitarian Action'. Where we spoke about special services and the added value of faith based organisations in crises. We held it together with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists. We believe that such organisations are better placed to link with the religious infrastructure of countries and organise support, while having better access to information as to how to implement such aid”.

Following the long term spent by the Order in Malta, the shared history has bout the two together. In recent times, the government and the Order have realised that there are common interests for development. For example, the Fort St Angelo restoration, but also both are faced with the refugee crisis. There are fields where we have intensified our cooperation.

As for the future, the Grand Chancellor hopes that the Order would be able to adapt to the requirements of the time and always be up to alleviating misery, whatever comes.

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