UNHCR Initiative Supports Refugees’ Protection and Promotes Interreligious Cooperation (LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan has endorsed a historic code of conduct declaration that calls for faith leaders, faith-based organizations and communities to enhance efforts to embrace and support millions of refugees, internally displaced and stateless people, and to stand united against xenophobia.
“I fully endorse the ‘Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders’” Younan told over 150 participants including religious leaders, diplomats and representatives from 25 faith based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the 12 June “Affirmations” document launch, hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, Switzerland. The declaration is the culmination of a High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Faith and Protection convened last December by UNHCR chief, Mr António Guterres, and attended by representatives of major faith groups and academics.
It concluded with a recommendation for the development of a code of conduct for faith leaders, initially suggested by the LWF president and subsequently backed by all participants, This was followed up with the drafting of the “Affirmations” between February and April by a coalition of faith-based organizations and academic institutions which included, among others, the LWF, Jesuit Refugee Service, Islamic Relief Worldwide, the World Council of Churches, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
The text of the declaration draws upon principles and values of welcome that are deeply rooted in all major religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. It is expected to be used worldwide to foster support for refugees and other people displaced in their communities. Common Values for Co-existence and Protection Commenting on the declaration, Younan, who is bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), said the fundamental principles refer to many religious traditions. “I believe this is significant, in our quest to find common values of co-existence and protection.
Religion should be part of the solution,” he added. The ELCJHL bishop emphasized that the religious reasons for welcoming and helping strangers in need “are not at their core about charity or alms giving. They are about respect for human dignity. We are called upon to help out of compassion because we share the same humanity. Our welcome and our compassion should have no ulterior motive.” Dr Volker Türk, UNHCR director for the Division of International Protection, described the dialogue on faith and protection as “an interesting journey of mutual discovery” also for the UN as a secular organization that does not necessarily have “the openness to engage with faith communities, despite the fact that the origins even of the 1951 Refugee Convention and actually our statute, is firmly rooted in fundamental religious values.” James D. Thompson of ACT for Peace, and co-moderator of the session, emphasized that “faith actually plays a huge role in the daily lives of people, but that was not consciously recognized by secular humanitarian actors, who perhaps go into a situation without being fully conscious of faith beliefs, or values and sensitivities around some issues.
” He said “faith-blind” is the term used, and can lead to significant harm in the sense of polarizing communities.A lot of faith literacy and operational guidance was needed, Thompson added.
The Right Thing to Do
Türk said putting “faith and protection at the forefront” was the right thing to do. With regards to protection problems, he noted that the voice of civil society coming from faith communities and faith leaders was going to be “a very important” and influential one. Rabbi Nav Hafetz, of Rabbis for Human Rights, Israel, said she believed the importance of the affirmation document “resides in the fact that for the first time, we put aside theological differences between our respective faiths, and focus on the common ground in order to deal with a huge and challenging issue that all humanity is facing.
” For Younan, the initiative by the UN High Commissioner to bring religious leaders together to talk about faith and protection “is important not only for the protection of refugees but also as a practical way of promoting interreligious cooperation and understanding. It focuses not inwardly on us, but outwardly on the vulnerable human being in need.”
By: LWI correspondent John Zarocostas