(LWI) - Each woman, man or child fleeing from war or natural disasters, persecution or extreme poverty has a face, a name, a story and a family left behind. Listening to those stories, offering protection and support to forcibly displaced people is an obligation of all major religious traditions and there is much more that faith-based organizations can do, in partnership with governments and international agencies, to respond to the world’s growing refugee crisis.
That was the message from members of different faith traditions working in local and global refugee responses who took part in an international conference from 20 to 21 June on exploring opportunities for increased cooperation. Entitled ‘Welcoming the Stranger, Shaping the Future’, the interfaith event 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).
Organized by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in partnership with Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) and HIAS, the Jewish refugee aid organization, the Geneva 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.
German Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and former chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), reflected on the words of the Hebrew Bible which stress that the duty to protect immigrants and refugees derives from the experience of the people of Israel who ‘were strangers in the land of Egypt’. “This is not an imposed law but something that comes from the heart, from knowing how it feels to be looking for a safe harbor,” he said.