Frontline Faith-based Agencies and UNHCR Met to Strengthen Cooperation

June 28, 2022
By Magdalena Wernefeldt

Practitioners from A World of Neighbours took part in a two day meeting in Geneva entitled “Welcoming the Stranger, Shaping the Future”. The meeting aimed at improving the understanding of the work being done by local faith groups around the world in implementing the Global Compact on Refugees.

Organized by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Services (HIAS), Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW), and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the interfaith event “Welcoming the Stranger, Shaping the Future” brought together over 80 religious leaders, national and local activists and humanitarian workers from 37 countries, alongside officials from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), June 21-22.

Gillian Triggs, assistant high commissioner for protection at the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, opened the conference, and senior staff from UNHCR’s regional bureaus and gender, child protection, partnerships and peacebuilding experts co-facilitated some sessions.

“We were pleased to hear concrete commitments from UNHCR to continuing this partnership, in particular to increasing their faith literacy.”

During the highly interactive two days meeting, many of the participants acknowledged the need for an intersectional perspective on vulnerability. In many parts of the world, being a foreigner or person seeking refuge is less of a challenge if you are rich, while being poor or of colour might play into multiple forms of xenophobia, making you situation more vulnerable.

One of the participants even challenged the concept of xenophobia by stating that “We do not fear the stranger, we fear the misery.”

The  conference concluded with a message of hope, as well as an appeal to international agencies to understand the vital role that faith plays in trauma healing, resilience-building and integration of refugees into their new host communities.

Faithbased organisations have decades of experience, serving refugees and host communities in other places, especially in developing countries where the vast majority of the world’s refugees are located.

In a joint op ed published by Religion News Service the three organizations expressed the importance of the participation and dedication of the UNHCR:
“We were pleased to hear concrete commitments from UNHCR to continuing this partnership, in particular to increasing their faith literacy.”

Ahead of the conference, IRW, LWF and HIAS has been working closely with other faith-based organisations to set up consultations with a broad group of grassroots faith communities, networks and organisations in areas affected by mass displacement.

The Nairobi-based Faith to Action Network has been hosting consultations with its extensive inter-faith membership across East and West Africa.

The Network of Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, alongside Finn Church Aid (FCA), hosted consultations for faith actors coming from South Asia and South East Asia, focusing on youth and the Sustainable Development Goals in displacement contexts.

HIAS Europe and A World of Neighbours have carried out European-level consultations with people from faith communities in refugee-hosting contexts across the continent.