Responding to the refugee crisis as a matter of faith

(RNS) – If the war in Ukraine continues, sending refugees on an exodus to the West, the number of people worldwide who have been uprooted and forced out of their homes by conflicts and disasters, according to the United Nations, is more than 100 million.

Faith-based agencies are among those on the front lines of these emergencies, providing practical and psychological support, both to those who remain displaced in their own countries and to those who flee across borders to neighboring peoples.

Against the unusual refugee crisis, our three organizations – Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Lutheran World Federation and HIAS, an international Jewish humanitarian organization that provides critical support to refugees – strengthen their cooperation to provide a better, more coordinated and effective response. These organizations have decades of experience in serving refugees and host communities elsewhere, especially in developing countries where the vast majority of refugees in the world reside.

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As a cornerstone for our partnership, and to mark World Refugee Day, the three organizations jointly organized an international conference in Geneva on June 20 and 21, with the aim of improving our understanding of the work being done by local faith groups around the world. the world in implementing the Global Compact on Refugees. It has also addressed the question of how these groups can be supported in their work.

Gillian Triggs, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, opened the conference with us, and senior staff from UNHCR’s regional bureaus and genders, child protection, co-operatives and peacekeeping experts co-facilitated some sessions. Their participation was essential, and we were pleased to hear concrete promises from UNHCR to continue this partnership, in particular to increase their faith literacy.

The conference examined the role that religion plays in displacing populations from their homes. Differences between faith groups or within a faith group are often an important reason why refugees flee, who do not take much with them as that faith tradition. Many rely on those faithful traditions to deal with the trauma of flight and to rebuild the community and their lives in exile.

Faith groups are often the first responders, and are also regularly the last responders. They are on the verge of uproar before international groups arrive, and remain so long after funding for international agencies has run out. Given this reality, a coordinated response from people of faith is more urgent than ever.

In particular, faith groups can help to integrate refugees and asylum seekers into their new context with the help of our networks, influence and moral authority to find existence for the displaced and to promote understanding and combat xenophobia in the host country. Faithful groups must seek to deepen their partnerships and their connections with global humanitarian and development agencies.

At the conference, we picked up some important models for such networks. Through an initiative called Symbols of Hope, the Lutheran World Federation supports member churches in African countries to provide pastoral and psychosocial care for returnees, along with skills training and support for living.

An initiative by Interfaith Women in Uganda, the country that hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa, is helping to develop educational tools for young refugees and members of host communities to promote cohesion and prevent conflict over scarce resources.

In response to the war in Ukraine, HIAS is expanding its Welcome Circle network of synagogues and local community groups taking responsibility for the return of refugees to their communities, launching an initiative to repatriate evacuees from Afghanistan.

People evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, are waiting for a bus after arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va., On Wednesday, Aug.  25, 2021. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)

People evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, waiting for a bus after arriving at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Virginia, on Aug. 25, 2021. (AP Photo / Jose Luis Magana)

Offering shelter and a welcome to those most in need is more than just a professional obligation for members of these religiously motivated organizations: It is a commandment written in their religious texts that continues to inspire words and actions .

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me,” Jesus told his listeners in St. Louis. Gospel of Matthew. The Torah instructs Jews 36 times to care for the stranger – much more than it obliges them to keep the Sabbath or any other law – as in the Book of Exodus: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of ‘ the stranger, because you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Similarly, the Qur’an calls on Muslims to be protectors and helpers for “those oppressed men, women and children who cry ‘Lord, save us from this city where people are oppressors!'” Another verse reads: “If they seek help from you. ” against persecution, it is your duty to help them. ”

This is a challenging task because we are witnessing the scale of the crisis that is missing in Ukraine and the continuing suffering of people who have fled conflict and oppression in Syria, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia and on other places. We call on all people of good will to pray for peace, to consider volunteering and to donate to relief efforts.

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As we reflect on the timeless questions “Who is my neighbor?” and “What can I do to help?”, we pray that you will join us in your faith-inspired communities by taking action for a more empathetic, generous and open-armed policy for all refugees, no matter where ‘ t they come and what their faith is.

(Waseem Ahmad is CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide. The Ds. Anne Burghardt is Secretary General of the Lutheran World Federation. Mark Hetfield is CEO of HIAS. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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