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"Perspectives on Migration: Displacement and Marginalization, Inclusion and Justice. An Ecumenical Vision"

"Perspectives on Migration: Displacement and Marginalization, Inclusion and Justice. An Ecumenical Vision" - Speech by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches at the reception hosted by UNICEF, in New York, 22 January 2018, as part of as part of the 4th Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs.

23 January 2018

"Perspectives on Migration: Displacement and Marginalization, Inclusion and Justice. An Ecumenical Vision"

Speech by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, at the reception hosted by UNICEF as part of the 4th Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs. United Nations, New York City, USA, 22 January 2018

Let me first of all express a word of gratitude to all who have contributed to the joint work of this symposium. At the end of the day we are invited into the house of UNICEF for this reception. What is shown on the walls around us, reminds us that many migrants are children, and they are most affected in some of the crises that causes migration today. Children help us to see more clearly the essential task to create hope for our human family, particularly for those who are migrants among us.

At a lunch in Cape Town with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, one of the most significant church leaders of the last decades and a champion for human rights, dignity, justice, truth and reconciliation, he urged me: “Olav, when you meet with the Germans, please tell them that the day Mrs Merkel opened the borders for those millions of people who had to leave their homes, I was proud to be a human being!” Well, I did so in one of the events in Germany some months ago when Lutherans and Catholics commemorated together the 500 years since the start of the Reformation. The chancellor, Mrs Angela Merkel was present. The audience did something unusual in a German church, I believe – and also for me: I was interrupted by a long, very long, applause. This reaction and the words from Tutu remind us what is basically at stake in what we have discussed today: What it means to be human - and what human unity requires. For the people in the churches, it is about our common understanding of what it means to be Christian. Many other peoples of other faiths would say something similar.

In a situation of historical crises it is important to make decisions that show our shared human values. Now we are invited to contribute to how to pursue the discourse further to see migration in a wider perspective. It is critically important to take care of human dignity in developing sustainable, international systems for migration to happen in a safe, orderly and regular manner.

We need a new Reformation of today that calls for equal respect and dignity and rights for every human being created in the image of God. It is needed among people in all churches, in all religions, in all societies and contexts, in all countries of the world. Maybe we saw an expression of that Reformation in the marches in the streets of New York and many other cities here in the USA and in the world last Saturday. We need a change of our priorities towards care for human dignity, human solidarity and human rights and human unity. We need a Reformation of how we speak about one another, particularly the discourse about migrants.

We are living in a critical, even dangerous time in human history. Just when international solidarity and cooperation are needed more than ever to respond to global challenges, commitment to multilateralism and the common international standards and legislation seem to be increasingly threatened and in retreat. As human beings we are facing some threats to all of us, but some are much more vulnerable than others under these threats. We acknowledge that nuclear weapons are not a theoretical threat to world peace.  The effects of global warming are driving people to move, also within their own countries. Violent conflicts, terror and wars are forcing people to leave home. There are more refugees in the world than ever since the World War II. These and other factors are darkening the horizon of the future of humankind.

In contrast to this bleak picture, however, more and more people are waking up. They realize that this situation requires that they not remain silent bystanders but instead express their hope for the life of God’s creation through specific actions capable of turning the situation around.

The “Ecumenical Vision” shared by the churches is to see all human beings created in the image of God. This comes with a very realistic understanding of human failures, also among religious people and communities. But it is also a vision of how it can be if we are the protector of our sisters and brothers – whoever and wherever they are. We share an ecumenical vision expressed in the daily prayer that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Some have called the “ecumenical movement” for “The Second Reformation”. The ecumenical experience has been that this vision and dream for more unity can become true. We can as human beings and people of faith relate in an accountable way to one another - even when we live in totally different contexts and conditions. We can see some signs of what it means to be one – in solidarity and sharing – in faith, hope and love.

As the World Council of Churches (WCC) enters its 70th anniversary year, we realize that its purpose and objectives are as relevant as before. The many expressions of polarization, greater gaps between rich and poor, incidences of extremism and violence, worries about the future of the planet Earth, and the withdrawal of accountability for our common home and future, create a constant test of what we stand for, what we can do, and what our values and vision are.

Today the WCC brings together 348 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 550 million Christians in over 120 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. We have to be as committed as ever to realize just peace in our world.

We need changed attitudes to handle properly the many challenges of our time. We need the attitude of mutual accountability in all our relationships. It is a central attitude that has brought the ecumenical movement to life as a fellowship of churches. We can show this attitude in acknowledging that all have something significant to contribute, by accepting relevant critical questions and that we all have something to learn and to change.

The attitude of mutual accountability needs solid structures of multilateral cooperation for the common good.

As churches we represent commitment, active presence and open communities for people on the move. But we also represent together with other faith-based communities the migrants themselves, as they carry with them their faith identity. Their faith is often the most important baggage they have to manage their situation.

By exercising this attitude of mutual accountability in a symposium like today we strengthen our relationships among the many actors represented. We also become wiser and stronger in our shared commitment for a better world.  We share and acknowledge the relevance of the contributions from different sectors and communities. As churches we need the competence and the commitment of other partners like we get in the context of the UN.

I will not reiterate all the important statistics and policy perspectives that have been shared today. I do wish to take this opportunity to affirm the WCC’s support for the process for the negotiation and adoption of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, as well as for a global compact on refugees. We see this process as a salutary opportunity for UN member states to establish and secure a common set of policies and practices for managing migration.

Governments certainly have a responsibility to protect and promote the security and economic and social interests of their people. However, we are discussing something that is not limited to national borders, the one humanity.

We must be accountable and tell the other side of the story as well. There is actual evidence of the overwhelmingly positive impacts – even the necessity – of migration for the health and dynamism of societies. This has often been obscured or ignored. And this is to say nothing of the manner in which the human reality of people’s suffering and hardship has been ignored.

With our ecumenical vision we particularly call on governments to make renewed commitments to relevant international human rights law a foundation for this new global compact. Among other things, we call on all those states that have not already done so to sign, ratify and implement the Convention on the Human Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Whatever governments may say or do in the Global Compact process though, the challenge ahead is a much broader one – beyond whole-of-government to whole-of-society. For its part, the World Council of Churches, together with many faith-based, UN and civil society partners, is committed to confronting the vicious cycle that has emerged. This circle is made between sudden and exceptionally high levels of forced migration, genuine concerns among the people of receiving countries, populist politics seeking short-term political advantage, and a resurgence in xenophobia and racism. We have to be accountable and say that we find this also within the churches and faith-based constituencies.

Jointly with the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, we will convene a major conference on this constellation of issues in May this year in Rome.  We are hoping and praying that the appeals and realistic initiatives will break through the sometimes deliberate manipulation and exacerbation of people’s fears. We believe it is possible to engage a deeper reflection at the level of faith, ethics and morals, and at a fundamental level of human decency and compassion for those who are suffering.

It is about being human.

As the UN secretary-general notes in his report, large movements of migrants are triggered by environmental, social and other pressures that make people take desperate measures for a better future for them and their families. These are motivations that are common to us all. Many more people are likely to be forced to such desperate measures. It is the task of this generation to craft a consensus that is both principled and pragmatic, and can help migration work for all.

To conclude:  We are called to offer hope, but not in a superficial way. In the World Council of Churches we use the image of being together on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. We are inviting all people of good will to join us.

The world does not need an ecumenical vision that is an apocalyptic, fatalistic vision. We need a vision that shows that something else is possible, a vision of hope. What we have discussed today is finally about how we all can be more proud to be a human being.