In this email:
- Refugee Week
- Working Together for Refugees
- Sharing the Journey of Migrants and Refugees
One theme of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings is God’s use of what is seemingly small and insignificant to do great things for God’s Kingdom. It’s a reminder that all of us, however apparently small or great, are made in the image and likeness of God and can be the source of great blessings by God’s grace. As we approach Refugee Week, how can we promote this sense of the preciousness and potential for blessing in each person?
Refugee Week takes place from the 18th to the 24th of this month – and our email pieces this week have positive stories to tell about work that is happening locally and about a conference held at the UN looking at faith responses to refugees.
We need positive stories since it often feels that, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al Hussein, recently said, we are moving “backwards to an era of contempt for the rights of people who have been forced to flee or leave their homes because the threats they face are more dangerous even than the perils of their voyage.” In recent stories from Europe alone, Italy and Malta refused to admit the SS Aquarius rescue ship; a report stated that French police mistreat child refugees; measures were proposed that could criminalise helping migrants seek asylum in Hungary; and Caroline Lucas spoke of the psychological impact of the UK’s use of indefinite detention. And there are many more examples from other countries.
Please pray fervently for the safety and well-being of all who have been forced to flee their homes. We would also encourage you also to show your concern for refugees by coming to some of the varied local events celebrating Refugee Week.
Working Together for Refugees
Only about 0.2% of the world’s refugees are hosted by the UK, according to UN statistics, and the Thames Valley has become home to only a small proportion of those. But our area has a long history of welcoming people seeking asylum and continues to do so, including, since 2015, through the government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS).
Many Christians and others of goodwill across the Thames Valley have felt moved to assistrefugees, both those overseas and those on our doorstep. CCOW is helping network these churches, groups and individuals, and to connect and resource those who are interested in joining them. If you’d like to know more about the groups we work with, or explore some of the resources we offer, see our webpage.
A major step in bringing people together was “Partnerships of Hope – Working Together for Refugees”, organised by CCOW at New Road Baptist Church in Oxford on 21st April 2018. Around 100 people took part, all active in supporting refugees or interested in doing so. During the day’s talks, workshops and networking times, the harsh realities faced by refugees and the frustrations and challenges experienced by those wanting to help were voiced. But the atmosphere of the day was extremely positive, as we also heard and learned from many examples of good practice and great achievements for and by refugees. You can read the summary of the day here.
Among the themes emerging from “Partnerships of Hope” was a desire for more networking opportunities, ongoing communication between the different groups supporting refugees and more effective external communication. In response, we are planning a day in the Autumn, kindly facilitated by Jillian Moody, media consultant, for the groups to think through communications strategies. We’re also thinking of networking local churches engaged in assisting refugees, by creating an online forum and organising a retreat day.
- for people who have come here as refugees. Pray that they would be made welcome and receive whatever help they need as they integrate into the UK
- for local groups and organisations seeking to walk alongside refugees, for adequate funds and volunteers and good communications
- for a greater culture of welcome and celebration of diversity in the UK
- for more local churches and individuals to engage with topics relating to refugees and forced migration, and to get involved
- for wisdom and direction for CCOW’s ongoing work around refugees and forced migration
Action Point: Please contact Joanna if you are interested in any aspect of our work around refugees.
Sharing the Journey of Migrants and Refugees
“This is less about subtle negotiations of words and phrases, and more fully about real people’s lives.”
Revd. Rachel Carnegie, Co-Executive Director of the Anglican Alliance
In September this year, two major new compacts on migration and refugees will be presented for adoption by member states at the United Nations General Assembly. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration will be the first global agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN that addresses ‘all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner’. The complementary Global Compact on Refugees seeks to establish a wide-ranging and more equitable global response to large movements of refugees and protracted refugee situations. It is hoped that this response will better support both refugees and the communities that host them.
Both compacts will have involved almost two years of consultations and negotiations following the New York Declaration in December 2016.
Ahead of the latest round of consultations on the compacts, Caritas Internationalis and the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN recently co-hosted an interfaith conference at the United Nations in New York. Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders brought different perspectives to the question of how the global community can achieve effective international cooperation and shared responsibility to alleviate the suffering and build hope for millions of refugees and migrants. The voices of migrants and refugees were also heard. Reverend Rachel Carnegie, the co-executive director of the Anglican Alliance, was invited to offer the concluding remarks at this significant event.
We’ve excerpted some of the discussions here; you can read a fuller summary involving all the participants on our website.
Faith based organisations not only relevant but crucial
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the UN, who chaired the session, described how faith-based organisations provide so much of the infrastructure for the immediate and long term support for refugees and migrants. He talked of a person-centred, holistic approach, helping refugees and migrants to achieve their full potential while enriching their new societies through the exchange of talents and culture. “Even when [a migrant] is of a different faith, many know of the reputation of faith based organisations to extend care to anyone in need, because of the principles of charity, mercy and solidarity flowing from that faith. Faith based organisations start not from political or economic perspectives, but from the affirmation of the human dignity of all people before all else. This person-centred approach, while not unique to faith based organisations, is at the heart of all their work. It also inspires a more holistic approach to caring for the migrant and their families, rather than addressing migration simply as a political or economic problem. Faith based organisations typically address the needs of every person as an individual in communion with others and the common good of all society.”
After outlining the wide range of practical responses of faith based organisations in the care of migrants, Archbishop Auza said, “During negotiations towards the global compacts there has been discussion on the role of faith based organisations. Some have questioned their relevance but as today’s event hopes to show, we are not only relevant but crucial to help migrants and refugees and also to the work of states in caring for them. The pivotal part they play in welcoming, protecting, promoting, integrating and sharing the journey of migrants and refugees should be noted and lifted up as an example for all of civil society and receive explicit reference in the global compacts.”
There must have been a refugee or migrant in all our pasts
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the President of Caritas Internationalis and the Archbishop of Manila, reflected on the guiding principles set out by Pope Francis – the four verbs that articulate our shared responsibility – to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees at all stages of their journey. He reflected on his own family history of migration, and said,
“We invite everyone here never to forget that in our families, clans or peoples there must have been a migrant or a refugee some time, somewhere. In their name the God of Israel calls us to love the stranger, but will we remember or choose to forget? …. Christians believe that Jesus migrated from the condition of being God’s glorious son to that of being a lowly human being. As a baby he became a refugee in Egypt with his parents to escape the ire of Herod. He praised outsiders in his stories, like the Good Samaritan, and presented strangers as models of faith, such as the woman of Samaria at the well, the grateful Samaritan healed of leprosy, the persistent Syro-Phoenician mother, the Roman centurion who cared for his servant and believed his word, and to cap it all, Jesus identified himself with strangers. ‘When I was a stranger, you made me welcome’ (Matthew 25) declaring that what we do, or fail to do, to strangers we do, or fail to do, for him.
For Christians a stranger has a human face – the face of Jesus”.
To turn one’s back on migrants is to turn one’s back on God himself
Rabbi David Rosen, the International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee, spoke about the duty of a society to its own citizens, alongside its obligation to maximalise human dignity and freedom for all – preventing exploitation, and enabling safe and secure passage for people on the move – as well as ensuring decent living and social conditions for refugees and migrants. As did Cardinal Tagle, Rabbi Rosen reflected on the Biblical mandate to care for the “stranger” and the centrality of the experience of migration to the Biblical narrative.
“We are commanded not only to love our neighbour in the Bible, but also specifically to love and empathise with others who seek to dwell in our community…. The Hebrew word ‘ger’ that is commonly translated as stranger is better translated in terms of the meaning in Hebrew as sojourner. … As it is written in Leviticus and Exodus, ‘for you know the soul of the sojourner for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt’. The ancient Jewish sages point out that our historical sojourner experience is referred to more than anything else in the Hebrew Bible, some 36 times, precisely in order to serve as inspiration for our moral conduct.
“Not for nothing does the history of Biblical salvation begin with a story of a migrant, Abraham, who leaves his birth place in Ur of the Chaldees, in today’s Iraq, for a better future for himself and his family, to contribute to a better future for humanity…. The orientating event of Biblical sacred history is the emigration experience, being delivered from persecution and journeying towards a better future in a promised land.
“To turn one’s back on another in need, but especially those whose very existence is vulnerable, most dramatically evidenced in the plight of refugees and migrants, and especially the children among them, is to turn one’s back on God himself.”
Otherness does not start with the other. It starts with ourselves
Metropolitan Emmanuel Adamakis, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of France, spoke of faith communities as bridge builders. He talked of the need to re-humanise the other, through encounter, reflecting in particular on the responsibility to care for young people on the move seeking safer lives, better opportunities, futures of hope.
“Most people want to reside and prosper in the land of their birth. This is natural. Yet to do so they require safety, food security, economic opportunity, freedom from environmental distress and prospects for their children’s future. Forced migration is the result of war, poverty and environmental degradation and climate change that compel people to leave their homelands. Because of these factors we are currently facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. And the face of the migrant is increasingly a youthful face. For the first time in history, half of all refugees are children and youths and one in every 200 children in the world today is a refugee.
“ ‘Otherness’ is another item connected to migration. It is a perception based on our territory. The imagined ‘other’ is often part of a narrative in which the definition of oneself comes with limits and borders… Speaking about identity or even multiple identities remains a taboo in many societies because it goes against the grand narrative of many nation states that base the concept of national identity on this grand national narrative. However, globalization continues to challenge the ethno-national model and exposes us to ethnic, religious and cultural otherness to a degree never before seen in the history of the world…. Otherness does not start with the other. It starts with ourselves – with the many layers of identity that make a person unique.
“We must continue to think that we are bridge builders rather than the builders of walls. And we must bring hope and peace to this world that it needs more and more today.”
A key theme running through the session was the importance of bringing a human face to the statistics of migration and to acknowledge all that migrants and refugees contribute to their new societies.
The moment I was on my feet, I wanted to help and give back
A refugee from Iraq shared his own story. He spoke of how before the Iraq war of 2003 his family had lived a very comfortable life in Iraq. After the war, as people were being kidnapped and killed his family resisted moving, determined to stay in their home country. Even when his family was robbed at gunpoint in their home, his parents still would not leave the country. ‘Leaving the country – for anyone it’s a big decision’, he said. ‘It’s really, really hard’.
Another year later, in 2006, he was kidnapped and a ransom demanded. For 9 days he was tortured. On his release the family was told they would be killed should they be seen again in Baghdad, at which point they finally decided to flee the country. Leaving with hardly anything, they went first to Syria where their passports were stamped ‘not allowed to work’ on entry. ‘Imagine starting a new life somewhere you can’t work’, he said. ‘How’s that going to work?’
With the family’s life savings completely used up, the family applied to the UN for refugee status and after two years of vetting the family was given the opportunity to move to the US.
‘We’re very grateful that we’re here, but it’s not easy. Being a refugee in a new country with new language, new everything – I almost felt that I was in a different world’. Watching his parents, ‘the strongest two people in my life’, struggle with the challenges of their new life – worrying about how they would find work, provide food and pay their bills – motivated him to work three jobs along with his college studies so he could help his family. ‘The moment that I felt I was on my feet, the first thing that came to my mind was that I wanted to help and give back to the community. I’ve been working for a charity since 2012 helping immigrants, refugees and people from here just helping whoever needs help. I am just one example out of millions.’
Representatives from various member states of the UN attended the session and were warm in their appreciation for the faith perspective and contribution to inform the upcoming negotiations. Maria Rubiales de Chamorro, the Permanent Representative of Nicaragua to the UN, said, ‘As a member state of this organisation, I am very happy and glad that I came. It is not every day that you see such an inclusive panel… A better world is possible, we all know that, but it has to take a lot of understanding from our part… This has been very clarifying for me… we thank you for giving us a very clear vision. My delegates and I are going into the next stage of negotiations with the four points you have mentioned very clearly: welcome, promote, protect and integrate’.
Ambassador Saint Hilaire of Haiti also expressed his gratitude for all the panel were doing. ‘Your actions are very inspiring to us as member states, he said. ‘You are making the difference. Thank you so much’.
Keep the image of a migrant or refugee actively present in our minds
In her concluding reflections, Revd. Rachel Carnegie appealed to all to ‘keep the image of a migrant or refugee known personally to us actively present in our minds as the discussions move forward’.
And she articulated four key challenges for the journey ahead:
- How can we make the Global Compacts a vision of hope, of humanity and our common good?
- How can we make them stronger in upholding the dignity of migrants and refugees?
- How can we overcome our internal barriers and become inclusive societies in an interconnected world?
- How can we renew, as the United Nations of the world’s peoples, our commitment for peace, solidarity and justice?
- that the ongoing negotiations around the global compacts will result in documents that genuinely offer a vision of hope, humanity and our common good.
- for all who are working to assure recogntion at local, national and international level of the dignity of migrants and refugees
- in thanksgiving for the work people of faith are doing to promote the dignity of migrants and refugees