A strong display of global support for refugees was present at the International Refugee Rights Conference, held at York University from June 7 to 9, 2018. More than 800 participants from all parts of the world gathered for the three-day event, hosted by the Canadian Council for Refugees. Frontline workers, practitioners, members of government, refugees, and many others discussed best practices for the promotion of human rights for refugees and vulnerable migrants across the globe. Among the many conference topics were the issues of immigration detention, children’s rights, gender-based violence, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, and the Global Compact on Refugees.
Citizens for Public Justice sponsored a workshop exploring the topic of how various faith communities can work jointly to advocate for refugees. Participants heard from Samer Al Laham of the Middle Eastern Council of Churches in Lebanon and Mary Jo Leddy, founder of Romero House for Refugees in Toronto. The two experts in cross-faith and cross-border refugee efforts explained how shared values help to provide common ground for partnerships. “You join not with a doctrinal conviction but with a care for people who are suffering,” Leddy explained.
Participants were able to share their own experiences, potential opportunities, successes and challenges. They drew attention to faith-based groups’ potential and responsibility to work together to tackle sources of religious persecution, particularly as it contributes to the creation of refugees. Participants also felt strongly that faith groups should unite to demonstrate a commitment to “welcoming the stranger” against growing xenophobic and discriminatory efforts to keep people out. “Refugee support is about loving our neighbour who is different from us,” explained Laham, with Leddy adding that “Our [church] walls are not about keeping people out, they are about keeping people safe.”
At the same time, those in attendance spoke about the very real obstacles to engaging with those of different faiths, and especially when differences of beliefs can impede collaboration. They also placed emphasis on the difficulty navigating cultural differences and the need for sensitivity as well as mutual respect when engaging with others. Still, participants felt that through interfaith dialogue, we can raise a strong united voice in support of refugees around the world.
The session was evidence that people of faith are not only committed to walking alongside refugees, but also see value in working together to advance refugee rights. Many agreed that people and organizations of faith should advocate for refugees as an outpouring of their religious commitments to both care for those who are marginalized as well as challenge systems that create or contribute to their marginalization. By building bridges across faith communities as well as geographical borders, religious groups in the refugee sector can increase their individual impacts and more thoroughly meet the needs of the many in search of refuge.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Can Pac Swire -2