Abune Makarios, on a visit to London, has spoken out against the deportation of some 3,000 African refugees by the Israeli government.

He appealed for the British government to use its influence to persuade the Israeli authorities to give sanctuary to the Africans, many of whom are Eritrean.

“I have been to the Sinai and seen them,” he told me, emphasising the danger they now face, if they are forcibly returned to Africa.

“The British government and the British parliament can use their influence with Israel,” he said.

“I have studied in Israel and I know the problems they face, but if the deportations go ahead they face terrible danger.”

A campaign under way in Israel to halt the removal of the asylum seekers has drawn support from a wide cross-section of Israeli society, from El Al pilots to Holocaust survivors.

A group of rabbis has launched a programme calling on Israelis to emulate the Dutch civilians who helped Anne Frank and her family by hiding asylum seekers in their homes.

“I welcome what they are doing,” said Abune Makarios. “I know how the Jewish people suffered under the Nazis and they understand our plight.”

Turning to the situation in Eritrea, where Patriarch Antonios has been under house arrest since 2006, Abune Makarios said that the church and its people were suffering. Asked whether he believed President Isaias Afwerki was a Christian, the Bishop replied: “nominally,” pointing out that Isaias had been baptised in the church.

Abune Makarios said he had told the president directly that he would not prevail indefinitely. “I told him that he is here today; but the church is here yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

The Bishop spoke warmly of the unity of Eritrea’s Christian and Muslim communities, pointing to the way in which the Christians had come out in support of their fellow Muslims during last year’s protests at the Diaa Islamic School of Asmara, leading to the arrest of Hajji Muasa Mohamed Nur.

“We are Christians and Muslims, but we are all Eritreans,” the Bishop said.

On the thorny question of the border dispute with Ethiopia, Abune Makarios remarked that the difficulty was that President Isaias was acting on his own, without the authority of a legitimate body. “When we have an Eritrean Parliament then they can talk to the Ethiopian Parliament,” said the Bishop, suggesting a way forward.

Finally, Abune Makarios described how he recalled the coronation of Queen Elizabeth as a young woman, and said he had prayed for her then, and continued to do so.










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