She was speaking on World Refugee Day, 20 June, during a World Council of Churches (WCC) webinar focused on statelessness and the recently adopted “Interfaith Affirmations on Belongingness.”
The affirmations, developed by the WCC in collaboration with religious scholars from various religious traditions and Religions for Peace, are an invitation to uphold and assert some basic principles that all faith communities can affirm in common when it comes to serving and protecting stateless people.
Ekaterina E. noted that her experience of statelessness is, in many ways, one of privilege because she doesn’t live in a war zone and she has shelter. “Reading the affirmations made me feel supported, uplifted, seen and recognised,” she said. “I commend the drafters for including stateless people in the drafting process.”
In an introductory video message, WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca reflected that we live in multi-religious societies. “As living communities of faith, dialogue among religious communities is a dialogue of humanity,” he said. “Together we can build bridges so that our respective efforts for the human rights of stateless people intersect, and so we are able to co-create a world which is friendlier and more open for stateless people to be seen, heard, and especially live in peace, harmony and dignity.”
Hans Ucko, a former WCC Program Executive of the Office on Interreligious Relations and one of the co-drafters of the Affirmations, recalled his childhood, being born stateless. He shared about his father who was a secular Jew rendered stateless during the Nazi era. Even after acquiring Swedish nationality, having lived several years of statelessness, his father still continued feeling vulnerable, and he remained throughout his life pushed to the margins of society. “A feeling of insecurity accompanied his every move,” Ucko said. “Was he accepted, welcomed, or only tolerated?”
The teaching of “chosen-ness” needs to be challenged, Ucko added, reminding participants of the Lund principle, according to which “what we can do together, we shall not do separately.”
Gillian Triggs, assistant high commissioner for Protection with the UN Refugee Agency, noted that the Affirmations are hugely significant for our shared efforts to end statelessness. “Untold millions of people do not yet have a nationality and suffer daily the indignities and human rights violations as a result,” she said, noting that the Affirmations are “an inspiring statement of principles acknowledging these rights and the need to end statelessness. Also inspiring is the spirit of cooperation by leaders of diverse faith that brought these Affirmations into being.”
She noted that religious leaders can encourage communities to set aside discriminatory views and practises, and they can emphasize in their teachings that there are no strangers, as the Affirmations proclaim.
Prof. Anant Rambachan, another co-drafter of the Affirmations, noted that “our religions cannot be exempted from responsibility. In many cases, past and present, discriminations are legitimised and sanctioned by appeals to religious authority. Religions become complicit in definitions of national identity, which privileges some groups and marginalises others, contributing to the cause that justifies statelessness.”