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Religious organizations speak up on refugee crisis at UN event

Religious organizations speak up on refugee crisis at UN event

©Marcelo Schneider/WCC

29 January 2018

On 22 January, the World Council of Churches, together with the ACT Alliance, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, and the UN Inter-Agency Task Force with Faith Based Organizations, co-organized the Fourth Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) in International Affairs with the theme “Perspectives on migration: displacement and marginalization, inclusion and justice”.

In the opening session of the symposium, held at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York, Amina J. Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the UN, reflected on the momentum at the UN in negotiating the Global Compacts for migrants and refugees, and stressed that religious leaders must continue to speak out about discrimination and intolerance. “We urge you to become involved in this process however you can”, she said. “We count on faith-based organizations to maximize this operation”.

The symposium took place at a strategically important moment. Within two weeks, the zero draft of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will be distributed. Simultaneously, a zero draft for the Global Compact on Refugees will be introduced in Geneva.

“What does it mean to be a fellow human being in the world today?”, asked Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary, reflecting on the inputs of some of the speakers who described today’s refugee and migration crisis as “primarily a crisis of solidarity”.

“As churches, we walk among the ones who are less privileged”, added Tveit. “We are also a voice of the voiceless, a voice of those who need another type of protection. How can we organize our work together so that the dignity of those on the move is assured?”

The so-called crisis of solidarity raised at the symposium is expressed through the fact that although there is wide recognition for the importance of moral engagement and solidarity in the public debate, political leaders, policy-makers, technical experts, civil society organizations and the general public have often talked past one another, and migrants and refugees themselves are given little voice.

On the panel on “the moral and ethical dimensions of forced migration”, Sana Mustafa, a young Syrian woman refugee, offered a clear example of the urgent need to involve refugees and migrants in the debate and in the development of solutions about their own situation: “Don’t speak about us - involve us. And not just as ‘story tellers’, but as advisors for policies about us”, said Mustafa, who is a founding member of the Network for Refugee Voices.

For Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, general secretary of the ACT Alliance, migration is not, in and of itself, a problem that needs to be fixed. “In fact, most migration is regular. What does need fixing is the continued violation of the human rights of migrants”, he said.

“It is essential that we, as faith-based organizations, re-think the issue of migration. Our faiths provide us with the element and subject of dignity of the human person. What needs to be fixed: the migration crisis or the violation of human dignity?”

The 2018 symposium focused on legal and policy contexts defining UN engagement; religious NGOs and religious actors’ roles; specific UN-FBO partnership initiatives; concrete recommendations for scaling up the global responses through UN-faith-based partnerships; political perspectives; and development, humanitarian, and human rights frameworks, in their moral and ethical dimensions.

Approximately 250 participants attended the event. They came from UN member states, United Nations agencies, faith-based organizations and wider civil society.

Learn more about the Global Compacts for migrants and refugees

Learn more about the work of the Ecumenical United Nations Office (EUNO)