Churches come up with new ways to handle refugees and migrants in Europe during 2015

(Photo: © WCC / Marianne Ejdersten)Refugees who arrived in Greece seen in October 2015.

During 2015 refugees and migrants were always in the headlines and the U.N. refugee agency reports more than one million landed on the shores of Europe and 80 percent of them arrived on small Greek islands.

Most of those arriving have fled the war in Syria.

UNHCR spokesman said that between 2,000 and 3,000 people have been making seaborne arrivals on the Aegean islands braving wild seas and cold temperatures.

Outgoing UNHCR head António Guterres told the BBC that the EU had been and continued to be "totally unprepared" for the arrival of refugees and "unable to put its act together."

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"Syria is experiencing a massive brain drain – 86 percent of those we interviewed have a secondary education," Guterres told the U.N. Security Council in New York Dec. 21.

He called for more international support to refugees and their hosts along with humanitarian assistance to match the level of the needs.

"Even with the recent surge in funding triggered by the refugee influx into Europe, the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (the 3RP) was only 52 percent funded, with dire consequences for many families," said Guterres.

Joining the call for more definitive action on the refuges crisis is Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and all Greece who has visited Berlin as well as the island of Samos, in the eastern Aegean Sea.

In Berlin, he urged the European Union (EU) to assume a more active role in alleviating the refugee crisis, which has put a particular strain on Greece because of its position on the EU's southeastern external border.

"Europe must assume its responsibilities as regards the refugee problem and contribute to tackling the causes that provoked it," the archbishop said in his official remarks in Berlin.

"The Western world has responsibilities for the appearance of the refugee problem."

He further expressed concerns about the possibility of a large number of refugees being trapped in the Balkans, a development that would turn that region into what he described as "a powder keg."

As he helped deliver food into the hands of people on Samos, the archbishop reiterated his message that refugees have been forced to leave their homes because of the actions of the West.

He said, "All these refugees are the result of our own actions, the so-called western world. We, with our actions, have forced them to abandon their homelands and now we stack them like sheep for slaughter."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been listening to the cries of refugees and the likes of the archbishop and she was to use her New Year's speech to urge Germans to see the influx of refugees as an opportunity for the future.

Warning against support for xenophobic groups, she says "it's important we don't allow ourselves to be divided," the BBC reported.

Germany has taken in more than one million asylum seekers in 2015, far more than any other European country.

Near another landing point in Europe a coalition of Protestant and Catholic organizations has reached an agreement with the Italian government to provide travel and integration services for refugees from North Africa and the Middle East.

The government will provide humanitarian visas to ensure the right to take up residence; the visas will not allow passage to other countries in the European Union.

Christian agencies will furnish airline tickets to Italy as well as accommodation, assistance with asylum procedures, educational opportunities and Italian language courses.

Air transportation will provide an alternative to the dangers of illegal passage across the Mediterranean, described by Marco Impagliazzo of the Catholic lay movement Sant'Egidio as "a death journey" for up to 3,700 migrants who died or went missing in 2015.

With the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy (FCEI), Sant'Egidio soon will open assistance offices in Morocco and Lebanon, with the future possibility of a third office in Ethiopia,the World Council of Churches reports.

The first arrivals in Italy are expected at the end of January 2016.

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, met with Italian religious leaders earlier in the week and discussed plans for the project.

"This admirable agreement is an essential early step in addressing the humanitarian crisis facing many places in the world," said Tveit.

"It is a model for churches, related faith-based organizations, governments and the international community to act together in the interest of humanity.

Copyright © 2015 Ecumenical News