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Global faith leaders unite to help tackle forced displacement

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Venezuelan refugee children play with a bike at a shelter in Manaus, Brazil.  © UNHCR/Felipe Irnaldo

Religious leaders representing the world’s diverse faith traditions committed on Tuesday to work together to address the root causes of forced displacement and help those forced to flee by promoting peacebuilding, conflict prevention, inclusion and social cohesion in their countries and regions.

The commitments came during the inaugural meeting of the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders. The Council comprises more than 20 religious and spiritual leaders and was born out of the need to enlist the help of faith leaders and communities in tackling the root causes of global forced displacement.

“The call to ‘welcome the stranger,’ through protection, compassion, care and hospitality, is deeply rooted in all religions,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during the virtual meeting to establish the group.

“As wars, conflict and persecution continue to force people to flee their homes we seek the support of faith leaders and their communities. They are key in not only standing with and supporting refugees during their displacement, but in addressing the root causes that gave rise to their flight.”

The Council was established by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in cooperation with Religions for Peace, a long-time UNHCR partner providing inter-religious solidarity and support to refugee and migrant communities.

“We have to raise our religious voices together.”

“As people are forcibly displaced across national boundaries, and ravaged by unimaginable multiple challenges, Religions for Peace leaders commit to support UNHCR to ensure limitless compassion and multiple forms of mercy, through their institutions and communities,” said Prof. Azza Karam, Secretary General of Religions for Peace  

Among the commitments made by faith representatives in the meeting was to help refugees and internally displaced people integrate into the communities where they work, and provide them with greater access to education, housing and mental health services.

“We, as a community of people from diverse religious traditions committed to ensuring respect for human dignity, can set an example and share a message based on human rights to create a strong platform to connect with people around the globe,” said Emina Frljak, Program Coordinator of Youth for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“We must not forget that 80 per cent of people in the world are driven by spiritual values of some kind, and here we have a strong group of people who can appeal to those values and generate empathy for people on the move,” she added.

As well as the individual commitments of its members, the Council will also focus on promoting the inclusion of forcibly displaced women in peacebuilding efforts, and advocating for the protection of vulnerable groups, particularly those at risk of gender-based violence.

“If religious leaders use their platforms to promote language that supports protecting, welcoming and integrating, it will raise awareness in communities of the moral obligation to welcome and protect,” said the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) Liaison Bishop for Migrants and Refugees, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, South Africa.

“We need to say ‘humanity first’, loudly and clearly. We have to raise our religious voices together. The job of religious leaders is to act together and to act globally. We must work collectively to change one heart at a time,’ said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the US-based Union for Reform Judaism.

The Council members’ mandate extends until the second Global Refugee Forum in 2023, where they will present their achievements and seek further commitments to action from a wider range of religious actors and institutions.

Members of the Council were jointly identified and selected on the basis of having served as strong advocates for conflict prevention, reconciliation and peacebuilding in humanitarian and forced displacement contexts.


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