(LWI) - To mark World Refugee Day on 20 June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that a record 100 million people have now been forced to flee their homes, seeking sanctuary from war, violence and persecution. In its latest report, the UN body says the number of displaced people worldwide has increased every year over the past decade and now stands at the highest level since recordkeeping began.
Faced with this unprecedented crisis, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is joining with interfaith partners Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) and HIAS, the Jewish humanitarian organization working with refugees and asylum seekers, to organize an international conference focused on supporting faith-based organizations at the frontlines of the refugee response.
The concept of ‘welcoming the stranger’ is a core pillar of many of the world’s major religions and inspires local faith actors all over the world to respond to the needs of vulnerable refugee communities. People of faith are often the first to respond when fresh crises break out and regularly remain long after the international humanitarian organizations have moved on.
Building social cohesion
The ‘Welcoming the Stranger, Shaping the Future’ conference in Geneva on 20 and 21 June brings together some 50 faith actors from at least 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and North America to highlight their work at both local and national levels in contributing to a coordinated and effective international refugee response.
The event also aims to strengthen partnerships between grassroots faith-based organizations and the international humanitarian system. The Global Compact on Refugees, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2018, recognizes the vital role that faith actors can play in building social cohesion, tackling xenophobia and promoting lasting solutions to the displacement crisis.
The vast majority of displaced people are hosted by their neighbors, whether neighboring states or neighboring communities within their own country. Some 85 percent of all refugees are currently hosted in developing nations.
There is a lot that the world can learn from local faith actors, but much of their work goes unrecognized and they need much more support.
– Rev. Dr Sivin Kit, LWF’s Program Executive for Public Theology and Interreligious Relations
Rev. Dr Sivin Kit, LWF’s Program Executive for Public Theology and Interreligious Relations, who is one of the conference organizers, said: “There is a lot that the world can learn from local faith actors, but much of their work goes unrecognized and they need much more support.” He added: “We hope that by bringing together religious leaders, UN officials and grassroots responders, we can show how increased cooperation will provide better protection and a stronger welcome for all displaced people around the world.”
The faith-based organizations, A World of Neighbours, Finn Church Aid, Faith to Action Network and the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers are also collaborating with LWF, HIAS and IRW in the running of the two-day conference.