Nageeba Hassan Tegulwa, Muslim co-chair of Interfaith Women in Uganda, described her work in developing educational tools for young refugees and members of host communities to prevent them from fighting over scarce resources. The training project focuses on healing and overcoming stigma, teaching the youth of both communities to see themselves “as complementary pieces of a puzzle.”
Rabbi Nava Hefez from Jerusalem, education director of a project called ‘Miklat Israel’ (Shelter Israel) spoke about the work of the organization which started to support mainly Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who were facing deportation by the Israeli government in 2017. Some 2,000 Israeli families came forward to offer protection and a safe hiding place for those threatened with deportation, while demonstrators from the organization took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest against the demonization of the African migrants.
Heidy Quah, a young human rights activist in Malaysia, founded a group called Refuge for the Refugees to develop services and networks that empower migrants to advocate for their rights. She spoke about the work of the organization during the pandemic as the government targeted migrant workers who were detained, denied vaccines and accused of being “COVID carriers,” she said. During that difficult time, she added, the organization mapped out the responses offered by churches, mosques and gurudwaras so that migrants could find the nearest source of help and support.
Syrian psychiatrist, Dr Mohamed Abo Hilal, himself a refugee living in southern Turkey, shared stories of his work with an organization called Syria Bright Future that provides services for other war survivors, especially orphans and women who have been victims of gender-based violence. The role of faith, he noted, is often an important part of the recovery process for these refugees, yet non-governmental organizations like his own “are not able to mention the faith component.” The 2018 manual of faith sensitive approaches in humanitarian action, published by LWF and IRW, in partnership with HIAS and other faith-based and secular organizations, was helpful in changing that narrative, he said.
Dr Mongi Slim, regional president of Tunisian Red Crescent, described the work of his organization in the south of the country, close to the Libyan border. “We receive a lot of bodies of people that have died at sea,” he said, describing the way that a DNA sample is taken from each of the victims in an effort to identify them and notify their families. “Each refugee is buried with a number,” he explained, “but each one has a name and a family, with parents who want to know where their children are.”
Participants called for stronger support for their work, through stepped-up interfaith advocacy and awareness raising, more robust financing for local organizations and increased education around refugee protection in the different religious traditions. Religious leaders, they insisted, can play a vital role in changing narratives about the welcome and integration of refugees, as well as equipping secular organizations to engage more effectively with people of faith.